Size does matter: guide to healthy portions published
Nutritionists have issued a new guide to portion sizes in an effort to combat the obesity crisis, warning that people often eat too much without realising.
The British Nutrition Foundation’s (BNF’s) new guide is designed, it says, to complement the government’s advice on the sorts of foods to eat, as laid out in the Eatwell Guide. The new guide specifies how much of each sort of food – starchy carbohydrates, protein, dairy, fruit and vegetables and oils and spreads – constitute a healthy diet within the advised limits of 2,000 calories a day for the average woman and 2,500 a day for the average man.
Ministers and public health experts have long been telling us that we eat too much sugar, saturated fat and salt, but until now less attention has been paid to the size of portions on the plate.
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. In its new guide, the BNF 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 one-third fruit and vegetables, onethird starchy carbohydrates and the rest split between dairy and protein.
That means, says the BNF, that we can eat five or more servings of fruit and vegetables, three to four of carbohydrates such as potatoes, bread, rice and wholegrain pasta, and two to three portions each of protein foods and of dairy or alternatives .
We do not think about portion sizes, says Bridget Benelam, a BNF nutrition scientist. “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 data from the national diet and nutrition survey and found lots of variations in the size of 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 that an easy way to
230g The most common portion size of spaghetti. The amount suggested by nutritionists is 180g, or 22% less
measure of spaghetti is to use your thumb and index finger to hold a bunch the size of a pound coin.
It suggests smaller snack portions, such as 20g of unsalted nuts and seeds or what fits in the palm of the hand; 55g of reduced-fat hummus (about 2 tablespoons), four cooked cocktail sausages or two falafel (40g and 113 calories).
A portion of fruit or vegetables could be two plums or satsumas, seven strawberries, three heaped serving spoons of peas or carrots, a medium tomato or three sticks of celery.
Treats, says the guide, should be seldom, small and up to 150 calories. Examples include a small chocolate biscuit, a small bag of crisps, four small squares of chocolate or a mini muffin.
BNF said the guidance was produced with help from a panel of experts and funding from food companies and retailers including Waitrose, Tesco and Marks & Spencer.
The recommended portion sizes for wholewheat pasta, rice, a potato and breakfast cereal, according to the BNF