Caution with your portion

2013-10-10 00:00

THIS week South Africans are celebrating National Nutrition Week. With statistics showing an alarming rise of obesity in our country (particularly in adult women and pre-school children), National Nutrition Week’s theme this year is “Eat less — choose your portion with caution”. Ironically, in the midst of malnutrition, many South Africans are simply eating too much and making poor food choices, which lead to obesity and poor health.

Choosing healthy foods is just the first step to eating healthily. Being sensible about how much we eat is an essential second step. For those of us who love food and could easily make a hobby out of eating, portion control is absolutely essential to achieving and maintaining our healthy weight. Weighing every item of food can be tedious and often is not possible. Let’s take a look at how we can practically monitor and control the amount of food that we eat.

• Pay attention. At meal times, pay attention to what you are eating and fully enjoy the experience. Savour the aroma, taste and sight of your food. This helps the brain to register feelings of satiety and will help you to eat less while still feeling satisfied. Avoid eating in front of the TV or while doing other activities. At work, stop what you are doing at lunch time to enjoy your meal — avoid the temptation to continue working between mouthfuls.

• Eat slowly. The act of chewing sends vital messages to the brain and helps to suppress the appetite. Eating quickly is a very difficult habit to break, but persevere and enlist the help of your table-mates if necessary. Aim to be one of the last people to finish eating at the dinner table. Ideally, we should chew every mouthful 40 times. Give it a try at your next meal; it’s not an easy target.

• Eat regular meals. Don’t leave long gaps between meals as this will more than likely result in overeating at the next meal time. Eating smaller portions more frequently during the day (as opposed to one or two large meals daily) will help to prevent unwanted weight gain.

• Use smaller plates, bowls and glasses. Dishing up on a smaller plate will help you to have smaller servings. Always use small glasses when drinking juices and alcoholic drinks, and the largest glass you can find when drinking water.

• When cooking large quantities, freeze the extra meals immediately. This eliminates the temptation to dish up seconds. Pack away leftovers as soon as you have dished up the meal to help you avoid nibbling later.

• Eat home-made meals as often as possible and limit eating out. Restaurant food is almost always higher in fat, even if you are ordering vegetables or salads.

• Extra food for your money isn’t always good value. Make sure that you are getting best value for your wallet as well as your health. Combo deals and large beverages or bottomless cool drinks may save you a few rand, but will not spare your health. Rather skip the special and order the smaller meal, or share the larger meals with someone else.

A simple way to know if you are eating enough, or too much at a meal time is to gauge the portion sizes on your hand. At each meal, your protein serving should be the size of your palm. In other words, the piece of chicken or fish or meat can fill a spot on your plate as thick as your hand and wide as your palm. Meat alternatives such as eggs, chickpeas, baked beans and other legumes also follow the same rule. The starch serving should be the size of your fist. This includes rice, pap, potatoes, sweet potatoes, couscous and pasta. The largest part of your meal should be the vegetables or salads. This can be an amount that would fit in both of your hands — in other words two palmfuls.

As National Nutrition Week 2013 highlights eating habits that may need to change, let’s work towards downsizing our concept of normal portion sizes where necessary. Let’s choose our portion with caution and turn the tide on ever-increasing obesity and health risks. Check out for great tips and advice on meal and snack choices and portions.

I appreciate the feedback I receive from you, the reader. Please feel free to e-mail me with any requests for topics that you would like to see covered in this column.

• Sharon Hultzer is a consulting dietitian.

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