Nutri­tion­ists launch por­tion size guide to tackle overeat­ing

The Guardian Australia - - Science - Sarah Bose­ley Health edi­tor

Min­is­ters and pub­lic health ex­perts have long been telling us we eat too much sugar, sat­u­rated fat and salt but less at­ten­tion has been paid to the size of the por­tions on the plate. Now a new guide to por­tion sizes warn­ing that peo­ple are eat­ing too much with­out re­al­is­ing has been launched by nutri­tion­ists, to sug­gest how much food peo­ple should eat dur­ing the day to stay healthy and help com­bat the obe­sity cri­sis.

The Bri­tish Nutri­tion Foun­da­tion’s (BNF) guide is de­signed, it says, to com­ple­ment the gov­ern­ment ad­vice on the sorts of foods to eat, as laid out in the Eatwell Guide. It spells out how much of each sort of food – starchy car­bo­hy­drates, pro­tein, dairy, fruit and veg­eta­bles and oils and spreads – con­sti­tute a healthy diet within the 2,000 calo­ries a day that women need and 2,500 for men.

Su­per-siz­ing is clearly out but por­tion sizes are a puzzle to many. While an ap­ple or a ba­nana is a por­tion in it­self, the right amount of pasta or rice to cook in the in­ter­ests of stay­ing a healthy weight is more dif­fi­cult to as­sess. Recipes vary and many peo­ple take a guess and throw more into the saucepan if they feel par­tic­u­larly hun­gry. The BNF, in its new guide, says the an­swer is 65g to 75g dry weight (180g when cooked) – or about the amount that would fit in two cupped hands.

The guide of­fers spoon and hand mea­sure­ments, which may be eas­ier in daily life than con­tin­u­ally get­ting out the scales. The sug­gested sin­gle por­tion of a grilled chicken breast, a cooked salmon fil­let or a cooked steak is “about half the size of your hand”. This ac­knowl­edges that big­ger adults, with big­ger hands, will need larger por­tions. Ched­dar cheese should be no more than “about the size of two thumbs to­gether” and a baked potato “about the size of your fist”.

The gov­ern­ment’s Eatwell Guide, says our diet should be made up of onethird fruit and veg­eta­bles, one-third starchy car­bo­hy­drates and the rest di­vided be­tween dairy and pro­tein. That means, says the BNF, we can eat five or more serv­ings of fruit and veg­eta­bles, three to four of starchy car­bo­hy­drates such as pota­toes, bread, rice and pasta (which in line with re­search this week should be whole­grain), and two to three por­tions each of pro­tein foods and of dairy or al­ter­na­tives and stay healthy with­out over­do­ing the calo­ries.

We do not think much about por­tion sizes, says Brid­get Benelam, a nutri­tion sci­en­tist with the BNF. “The amount we put on our plate typ­i­cally de­pends on the por­tion size we are used to con­sum­ing, how hun­gry we feel and how much is of­fered as a help­ing at a restau­rant ta­ble or in a packet or ready meal.”

She says the BNF looked at the data from the na­tional diet and nutri­tion sur­vey and found lots of vari­a­tions in the sizes of peo­ple’s por­tions. “Our sug­gested por­tion size for cooked pasta is 180g (254 calo­ries) but, for ex­am­ple, when we looked at por­tion sizes for spaghetti, the most com­monly con­sumed size was 230g (324 calo­ries), and about 10% of the sam­ple we looked at were con­sum­ing 350g as a por­tion, which would pro­vide nearly 500 calo­ries from the pasta alone, be­fore sauces and sides were added to the meal,” she said.

The guide says an easy way to mea­sure spaghetti is to use your thumb and in­dex fin­ger to hold a bunch the size of a pound coin.

It sug­gests smaller por­tion mea­sures for snacks, such as 20g of un­salted nuts and seeds or the amount that fits into the palm of the hand, which will be be­tween 113 and 137 calo­ries. Also snack size is 55g of re­duced-fat hum­mus – about two ta­ble­spoons, four cooked cock­tail sausages or two falafel (40g and 113 calo­ries).

A por­tion of fruit or veg­eta­bles – of which we should eat at least five a day – could be two plums, two sat­sumas, seven straw­ber­ries, three heaped serv­ing spoons of peas or car­rots, one medium tomato or three sticks of cel­ery.

If you do in­clude treats, says the guide, they should be small, at around 100 to 150 calo­ries, and not too fre­quent. Their ex­am­ples in­clude a small choco­late bis­cuit bar, a small mul­ti­pack bag of crisps, four small squares of choco­late (20g) or a mini muf­fin.

The guid­ance was pro­duced with help from a panel of ex­perts, says the BNF, and fund­ing from ma­jor food com­pa­nies and su­per­mar­kets in­clud­ing Waitrose, Tesco and Marks and Spencer.

Por­tion size rec­om­men­da­tions

• A rec­om­mended day in­cludes a break­fast of two wheat bis­cuits with semi-skimmed milk, fol­lowed by a ba­nana and small 150ml glass of or­ange juice. Lunch is a baked potato about the size of your fist, with tuna may­on­naise made with a medium-sized tin of tuna. A ce­real bowl full of mixed salad can also be eaten as part of your mid­day meal, as well as two tan­ger­ines. Din­ner is spaghetti bolog­nese served with the amount of cooked pasta that would fit in two hands cupped to­gether, and three serv­ing spoons or more of broc­coli. Dessert can be a small pot of low fat fruit yo­ghurt. Through­out the day peo­ple are ad­vised to snack on fruit, such as an ap­ple, as well as two oat­cakes and re­duced fat soft cheese. This meal plan equates to seven por­tions of fruit and veg­eta­bles, four por­tions of starchy foods, two por­tions of pro­tein and three por­tions of dairy.

• A rec­om­mended spaghetti bolog­nese recipe in­volves 75g of un­cooked spaghetti per per­son. Ad­vice states that you can mea­sure a por­tion for one by us­ing your fin­ger and thumb to make a hole the size of a £1 coin. How­ever, the amount of pasta needed may go up if you’re cook­ing for some­one with higher calo­rie needs. The por­tion size of raw mince ad­vised is about 125g but this can be halved in a dish with other in­gre­di­ents or meat can be re­placed with pulses and other veg­e­tar­ian op­tions. It’s rec­om­mended that a lot of veg­eta­bles are added to the bolog­nese sauce, such as onions, toma­toes and cel­ery.

• An­other rec­om­mended recipe is fish pie, with guid­ance sug­gest­ing about 180g of mashed potato per per­son (about three av­er­age sized pota­toes) and around 120-200g of raw fish per per­son. It’s also ad­vise to add veg­eta­bles such as frozen peas or spinach. All dishes should be served with plenty of cooked veg­eta­bles or salad.

The Bri­tish Nutri­tion Foun­da­tion’s rec­om­mended por­tion sizes. Pho­to­graph: Ali­cia Can­ter/Guardian

The BNF rec­om­mends 65g to 75g dry weightof pasta. Pho­to­graph: Lu­ciano Mor­tula/Getty Images/He­mera

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