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Take Heart Articles
Clueing in on controlling portions
We often find ourselves worrying about what we should and shouldn’t eat, but do you know that how much of something you eat is just as important?

Lisa Young of Columbia knows. When this 41-year-old working mom first learned she had high cholesterol two years ago, she was prescribed medication to help lower it. Since then, she’s lost her mother to congestive heart failure and a 39-year-old niece to heart attack. Knowing her family history of cardiovascular disease, she decided to make some lifestyle changes.

She’d been exercising, but now she’s increased that even more. However, she had not been as concerned with diet — proper nutritional intake and abiding by the recommended serving sizes — until recently.

“I really had to develop an understanding of what an appropriate portion size is,” Young says. “I’ve learned to eat for satisfaction—to slow down and enjoy every bite without feeling like I have to eat to feel full.”

Young says she owes her new appreciation for proper nutrition to Palmetto Health Heart Hospital cardiovascular dietitian Roberta Jupp, who teaches cardiac patients the importance of portion control.

“One of the key ways to reach and maintain a healthy weight is to control portion sizes, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food Guide Pyramid provides a helpful outline,” Jupp says. “I often work with patients who want to lose weight and improve their cardiovascular health. A good rule of thumb for establishing a daily calorie intake for cardiac rehab patients is to take your goal weight and add a zero.

“Therefore, if a patient’s goal is to weigh 140 pounds, we’ll look at the food pyramid’s suggested daily food intake for 1,400 calories. This will give us guidelines on portion sizes for each of the food groups,” Jupp adds. “I review with the patients examples of some of the USDA’s recommended serving sizes to help them gain perspective on controlling portions. They often come to the realization that an actual recommended portion size is much smaller than what they had been eating.”

Examples of the USDA’s one-serving size include:
3 to 4 small crackers
3-ounce hamburger patty (cooked)
1 cup (four leaves) lettuce
1/2 grapefruit
3/4 cup vegetable juice
1 slice of whole-grain bread
1/2 cup of mashed potatoes

In only a couple months after she first started watching her portion sizes, Young noticed a difference in her body. She’s dropped two dress sizes and she’s lowered her cholesterol. “I’ve made some small, consistent life-changing decisions,” she says. “I am committed to this way of healthier eating and believe it is something I can stick to.”

A helpful way to remember recommended portion sizes is to compare a serving size of food to a familiar object. For example, a single serving of:
Vegetables or fruit is about the size of your fist.
Pasta is about the size of one scoop of ice cream.
Meat, fish or poultry is the size of a deck of cards.
Potato is the size of a computer mouse.
Pancake is the size of a compact disc.
Cheese is the size of a pair of dice.