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Handy Guide to Portion Control

Many people with diabetes learn how to count carbohydrates in order to manage blood sugar, and others are asked to watch their weight. But one of the easiest ways to miscount carbs or calories is by underestimating portion sizes, so here are a few handy tips.

Measure now, feel good later

Using a food scale and measuring cups can save you a lot of worry. This way, you'll know that you had a half-cup of brown rice with 22 carbs and 100 calories,1 instead of "about" that much and "20-ish carbs/100-ish calories." Over the course of a day, small inaccuracies can add up.

How to approximate

Don't have a food scale or measuring cup with you? Here are some ways to approximate:2

  • 1 serving of meat or fish should be about 75 grams/2.5 ounces, roughly the size of the palm of your hand

  • 1 cup/250 ml of a beverage, pasta or leafy vegetables is about the size of a small fist

  • You can fit about 1/4 cup/60 ml of dried fruit or nuts in your cupped hand

  • The tip of your thumb to the bottom of the nail is about 1 teaspoon

  • Your whole thumb is about 25 grams/1 tablespoon, and two thumbs is about 50 grams/1.5 ounces of cheese

Servings vs. portions

Look at food labels to see what is considered a serving size. Often, we eat way more than the serving size on the package. Canned soup is a great example. It may seem like a single serving, but all of the nutrition information is likely to be calculated on half of what's in the can. Just make sure that if you eat more than the serving size noted, you're aware of all the carbs and calories you take in. 

Psych yourself out

Try these tips for tricking yourself into eating healthier portions when you dine out:

  • Split your main course or dessert with someone else

  • Get an appetizer or a salad (with dressing on the side) instead of a main course

  • If the restaurant usually brings bread or chips to the table, ask them not to

  • Get a take-home box at the beginning of the meal and save half for dinner tomorrow

  • It's probably just a good idea to avoid all-you-can-eat restaurants

Create your plate

Health Canada recommends a plate-based approach to healthy eating. Visualize a line down the centre of your plate. Fill 1 side with nonstarchy fruits and vegetables such as greens, cauliflower and berries. Now split the remaining half into 2 smaller halves. In one quarter, put whole grains or starchy foods like brown rice, quinoa or beans. Save the last quarter for proteins such as lean turkey, salmon or eggs.3

1USDA. USDA foods product information sheet: Rice, brown, long-grain, parboiled. Available at: Accessed July 29, 2019. Handy guide to serving sizes. Available at: Accessed July 29, 2019.

3Canada's Food Guide. Food guide snapshot. Available at: Accessed July 29, 2019.

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