Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Portion Control: What's a proper serving look like?

By now, most people know that they should be eating at least five servings of fruits and vegetables per day. But what does that actually look like? And what is a portion of protein? Is it different if it's animal or vegetable protein? How much should we eat at each meal?

Here's a website that clearly shows you what these items need to look like on your plate, and gives many examples of proper portion sizes. When we read labels at the grocery store, we see serving sizes but don't often know what those sizes would look like.

If you look around on WebMD's Portion Control Plate, you will see examples of typical serving sizes. Sure that cake looks none too evil according to the label, but that's only if you eat a piece of cake the size of a deck of cards. I usually take bites that are the size of a deck of cards. And especially look at the Grains section for a visual on what a typical serving of pasta looks like. It's a baseball, not a football. This means that when you have a large dinner plate of pasta, you are exceeding the recommended serving size by about 300%.

Companies have been making ever larger portions while only posting rather modest serving sizes on their labels. Look at this gigantic cinnamon bun above. I just had to snap a photo of it; it was ginormous! I am a tall woman with fairly large hands and this bun was about the size of my head. Whomever bought that bun likely did not eat it in several modest portions. It would be eaten at one sitting, just like all those enormous muffins folks buy at Starbucks, McDonald's and everywhere else nowadays.

This means that even if we're reading labels, we are probably getting fatter by consuming far more calories than we think we are. It pays to eat a moderate amount of food: better for your digestion, better for your fat cells, and better on your pocketbook. Unless you're an athlete, you don't need enormous amounts of food at one sitting. And if you're reading this blog, it's pretty likely that you know where your next meal is coming from, so it's very unnecessary to stuff oneself at each meal. Make sure that you read your labels and understand how much food they refer to, before putting it on your plate.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Eating for Heart Health; Are You Up for the Challenge?

One of yesterday's health headlines caught my attention: "Heart Strategy Could Save Canada Billions". The article goes on to explain that the Conference Board of Canada and the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada have released a Heart Health strategy that demonstrates how to reduce the incidence of stroke and heart disease between now and the year 2020.

What are their recommendations? They seem ridiculously obvious:
- reduce smoking
- Increase the number of Canadian children and adults eating at least five servings of fruit and vegetables
- Increase the number of Canadian children and adults who are physically active each day
- decrease obesity rates

If March's federal budget approves money for this strategy which was proposed last year, I hope we will see a lot of healthy changes, such as new food labelling laws which show what's actually inside processed foods so that people ca nmake informed decisions. But real change starts at home, doesn't it? When we go to the grocery store, we have to read what's on the labels of any processed food (i.e. anything besides meat, fruit or fruits and vegetables). We also have to get better at eating 5 to 10 servings of fruits and vegetables per day. This is tough! I thought I did a good job, and consider myself to have a pretty good appetite. But I took inventory of what I ate yesterday which was only:
2 servings of whole grains
2 servings of fruit
3 servings of vegetables
2 servings of dairy
2 servings of protein

This is actually not very much food for someone my height, age and level of activity, which explains why I am often snacking before bed. Most importantly, this is not enough fruits and veggies; it falls just on the edge of the recommended 5-10 servings. I can do better; I just need to put my mind to it. We all can!

I challenge you to take stock of what you're eating for a couple of days to see what you're taking in. Check out the Canada Food Guide for more information on what constitutes a serving of each type of food. I'm not a huge fan of the Food Guide, which considers apple juice (boiled, processed, sugary syrup separated from its natural fibres) to be a serving of fruit. I also don't like that they still recommend a diet that's mostly starches and complex carbohydrates. However, it's a good place to go to get a clear picture of what "eating 5 to 10 servings of fruits and vegetables per day" really means.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Organic Groceries Deliver Inspiration

We've finally signed up for Spud, a home delivery grocery company which features a lot of local organic foods. This means that each week we will have fresh, organic produce delivered to our home, and I'll need to come up with ways to cook with it.

Tonight I took a prepared Asiago and Artichoke dip and added half a bag of fresh spinach which I'd boiled for a minute, then chopped and squeezed to get rid of the water. I popped it in the microwave for 30 seconds and we ate this with sliced red peppers, carrots and tortilla chips.

The main involved a shrimp ring I found on sale at our regular grocery store. With tails removed I added them to a frypan full of chopped green onions, garlic, red pepper and fresh crimini mushrooms, in a little olive oil.

I can't argue that we'll be saving the planet with home delivery of groceries; after all, I usually walk to the grocery store. But it's nice to have fresh food just appear on your doorstep, without having to lug it home, or stand in line to pay. Most of all, the weekly harvest box of assorted fresh, seasonal vegetables are ones I wouldn't normally choose, so I'll get a chance to try out some new and different dishes. This little tub of food is going to give me a whole lotta inspiration!