Raise your hand if you’ve heard these common dietary adages: “A calorie is a calorie,” or “not all calories are created equal.” Confused yet? Who could blame you!? When it comes to portion control, it can be hard to decipher fact from fiction.
Consider this your no-nonsense guide to portion control tips, plus understanding once and for all why it matters.
First, Are All Calories Created Equal?
While it’s true that 100 calories from kale or 100 calories from donuts are both 100 calories (duh!) the difference is what those 100 calories do once you eat them.
Munching into 100 calories of kale means you’re eating a hefty 3 cups serving, which will fill your stomach, plus provide tons of vitamins, iron, and fiber. Compare that to 100 calories of a sugary donut (which is less than half a typical donut or just two donut holes,) which is hardly filling or satisfying. Plus, you’ll probably be crashing and hungry again shortly after.
This is why macros and portions matter, and why all calories really aren’t created equally.
What are Macros?
Macros or macronutrients are a fancy name for carbs, fats, and proteins. Almost all foods contain a blend of macronutrients, but higher protein foods like tofu or fish contain more of their calories from protein, whereas a handful of nuts or cheese are comprised of almost entirely fat calories.
So, What Should Your Portions or Macros Be?
Not to sound like a broken record, but there’s no one dietary style for everyone.
For those with certain medical conditions, a higher fat, lower carb diet might work best. Those looking to put on muscle will need more carbs and proteins.
Looking to lose weight and maintain a healthy body? In general, eating a healthy diet that’s sustainable for the long run will mean taking in a good balance of macronutrients.
Doing so ensures you’re getting ample portions of protein for satiety, carbs for energy for our brain, and body, fat for hormone health and fullness, plus a variety of “micro” nutrients, like vitamins, minerals, and other “extras” that are vital for health.
The Food and Nutrition Board of the Institutes of Medicine (IOM) recommends a macronutrient distribution of:
- 10-35% of your daily calories from protein macros
- Between 20-35% of your calories from fat
- And the rest, between 45-65% of your calories from carbs (P.S. don’t fear carbs! So long as they’re primarily healthy ones, like brown rice, oats, sweet potatoes, and produce.)
Portion Control Tips
Here are a few great options for tracking your portions and macros.
#1 Nutrition Apps
Apps like My Fitness Pal make it easy to track your daily food intake and see a breakdown of the overall macronutrient you’re consuming, which lets you make sure you’re getting a good balance for your goals.
#2 Portion-Control Containers
Another option that may be easier and more sustainable is using portion-control measuring cups specifically for tracking food portions.
#3 Measuring Cups and Spoons
Don’t underestimate the simple kitchen measuring cups and spoons. These work just as well for measuring out your food before you plate it.
#4 A Food Scale
The most precise way to measure food is by using a scale. Calorie counts on apps can sometimes be inaccurate, and it’s possible to overstuff or not accurately use a measuring cup, so weighing portions on a scale ensures accuracy.
Whichever of these tools you choose to use, using a portion control tool versus just eyeballing your food will ensure you’re eating in a way that brings you closer to your fitness and weight loss goals with every meal.
Why is this so important? Because many of us are way over or undereating certain food groups.
For example, if you’re aiming to get 4-5 servings of veggies a day and you’re used to just grabbing a few baby carrots to have with your hummus, you might be way undershooting it (a serving size of most produce is about one cup.)
And speaking of hummus, if you’re dipping into a tub without measuring, you’re likely eating way more than the suggested two tablespoons or so. Using a basic tablespoon to pre-portion your servings goes a long way.
How about pasta? Two ounces of dry pasta is a good serving of carbs, but if you’re dining out or eyeballing it, your plate of spaghetti can easily be triple this.
Use Portion Control to Get You Closer to Crushing Your Health Goals
Whatever your preferred method of portion control is, remember to find a routine and balance of portions and macros that’s sustainable for your lifestyle. If you’re new to portion control, start small by focusing on fruits and veggie servings, and work your way up to tracking your portions of other food groups!