Portion control is a large component of living a fit life. But, what we’re learning from studies on diet and workout plans is that one-size does not fit all. The same is true for portion control. While the My Plate portion illustration (below) is a great tool for the average adult, not all of us fall into the average category in height, body type or activity level. Which means, for some, the My Plate suggestion doesn’t provide enough of certain foods, leaving them more likely to need to supplement soon after meals, often with less nutritious choices. For others, the My Plate suggestion is too much food, leading to regular over-consumption and unwanted fat mass gain.
If only there were an easy way to monitor our unique portion sizes without measuring or weighing everything before we eat it. Well, there is using one simple tool that we have on our persons every minute of every day. And, no, I’m not talking about our phones. I’m talking about our hands!
Yup, that’s right. Your hand is an excellent reflection of your body size – whether you fall smack dab in the average category, are especially tall or very petite. And, as such, is a handy (pun intended) tool to help you determine how much of different types of macronutrients are the correct amounts especially for you. Here’s how it works:
Palm = Proteins: A serving of complete proteins – meat, poultry, fish, soybeans, solid dairy or eggs – should be about the size of the palm of your hand. We should have three to four servings of complete proteins a day.
Fist = Carbohydrates: A serving of any complex carbohydrate – whole grains, vegetables or fruits – should be about the size of your fist. We should have three to five servings of whole grain products and/or starchy vegetables per day. We should have a minimum of six servings of fruits and non-starchy vegetables daily, consuming more veggies than fruits in any given day.
Thumb = Fats: Oils and solid fats, such as butter or mayonnaise, are a little harder to measure as they tend to get added here and there throughout the preparation of a meal. Think about making sure that all added fats used in assembling a meal plate don’t exceed the size of your thumb. Fats added to smaller meals or snacks should be down-sized accordingly. Up to three thumb-sized servings of added fats is recommended daily.
Finger Length = Liquid Dairy: Assuming your glass is the same width of your four fingers held together, side-by-side, the height of the milk in a glass would be approximately equal to the length of your middle finger, measured from the tip to the bottom knuckle. Three to four servings of milk per day is recommended.
Palm Scoop = Nuts, Seeds & Legumes: These foods are great because they contain a combination of proteins, complex carbohydrates and healthy fats. A serving of these macronutrient hybrids (including nut or seed butters and bean pastes, such as hummus) would fill the scoop you make by cupping the palm of your hand. One to two servings of nuts, seeds and/or legumes is recommended daily.
Minimize: Foods high in refined sugars and/or refined flours – pastries, desserts, ice cream, white breads, soft drinks and alcohol – can be part of a healthy diet. Keep portions small and aim to partake no more than three days per week. Each serving should count as two grain-based carbohydrates.
Serving Totals by Body Type
Note the number of suggested servings for each food group, recommended by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, are represented by ranges and, again, are based on the average, moderately active adult. Whether you would fall on the higher or lower ends of the ranges depends on how active you are and your body type. Sedentary individuals should consume food groups at or below the low ends of the ranges while athletes may need to consume foods at or above the high ends of the ranges. As for body type, here’s the breakdown:
Ectomorphs/Carrot or Inverted Triangle: A steady supply of complex carbohydrates is necessary for an ectomorph’s super-high metabolism. Best to stay on the high ends of the recommended number of daily servings for all complex carbohydrates and nuts, seeds and legumes. A mid-range for fats, dairy and proteins is sufficient.
Endomorphs/Apple or Rectangle: A lower than average metabolism and a propensity to store carbs means the endomorph should stay on the lower ends of the recommended servings of grains, fruits and starchy vegetables; the higher ends on recommended proteins, dairy and non-starchy vegetables; and in the mid-range for servings of fats, nuts, seeds and legumes.
Mesomorphs/Pear or Hourglass: Given the mesomorph lies somewhere between the ectomorph and endomorph in metabolism, a mid-range for servings of most macronutrients is best. The only exception being to trade one or two daily servings of grains, starchy vegetables or fruits for the equivalent number of servings of non-starchy vegetables or proteins.
We don’t live in a one-size-fits-all world, so let’s not eat as though we do. Choose foods and the number of servings according to your body type and lifestyle. And, to know how much of each of them is the right amount specifically for you, use the measuring device always at your fingertips, so to speak, to keep your portions made-to-order healthy.