For decades, Canada’s Food Guide was used by families and dietitians as a blueprint for healthy eating. The pyramid-shaped paradigm, as we all know, is heavily based with fruit and vegetables, whole grains, and proteins, with limited fats and occasional foods, like soda, sweets, and salty snacks at the peak. It was understood that 5-7 servings of fruit and vegetables, 3-5 servings of whole grains and starches, and 5 servings of dairy and protein per day supported a healthy diet. What was missing in the Canada Food Guide was a clear definition of “What is a serving?”
A “serving” is such an ambiguous words, open to so much interpretation. What the Food Guide considered a serving is often vastly different from what a manufacturer considers a serving. We all know the food industry is a business and their goal is to have you buy more food, so to them a serving could be four cookies, while the food guide would look at one cookie as a serving due to the high sugar content. As a Personal Trainer, I find the “serving” is what often derails a client’s progress in their fitness journey.
Launched in January, 2019, the New Canada Food Guide is more generalized, relies on imagery—how is your plate supposed to look?—and allows for looser interpretations of the food categories based on individuals’ personal dietary practices. Fruit and vegetables should fill half your plate. Proteins, consisting of lean meats, eggs, nuts, legumes, and some dairy (no longer in it’s own category), will make up a quarter of your plate. Finally, whole grains—whole grain breads, pastas, rice, and other grains—complete the remainder of your plate. Last, but not least. drink plenty of water!
There is a lot of room for interpretation when it comes to serving size. How big is the plate? It gives a snapshot of the footprint of your grains and proteins, but how thick are they? How tall do they sit on your plate? If I eat half a plateful of fruit and no vegetables, is that still ok? While time will tell how well this new version of the Food Guide will work out, I have some practical tips for my clients and readers on how to accurately gauge a healthy serving size.
The best way to estimate how much is the right serving for you is literally in the palm of your hand. This quick, visual method is commonly recommended by dietitians, nutritionists, and personal trainers. Your hand is representative of what the right serving size is for you, for the most part. Men need to eat twice as much as women. Unfair, I know, but that’s just the way it is.
So here is the breakdown of portion sizes for women:
• Protein: 1 palm, hand opened flat
• Vegetables: 1 fist
• Carbs: 1 cupped palm
• Fat: 1 thumb (tip only)
For accuracy’s sake, in this context a Protein includes meat, fish, eggs, cottage cheese, and Greek yogurt; Vegetables includes only non-starchy veggies, and excludes fruit and legumes; Carbs includes grains, starches, legumes and fruit; and Fats includes oils, butters, nut butters, nuts , and seeds.
Once they get used to applying this system of visual guidelines, my clients often realize how much they have been distorting their portion sizes. Even if you are eating healthfully, it is so easy to overeat, thus counteracting all the hard work they are putting in at the gym. My suggestion to you this month, even if you’re not currently working with a Trainer, or specifically dieting, is to put these visual tricks to use in your everyday life. Pay attention to how much food is put on your plate in a restaurant. It’s usually too much. How much have you been putting on your plate at home? It has probably been too much.
Finally, if you follow through and try these guidelines, please share with us all what effects you noticed over the course of the month. If you have any practical tips for portion control you have found effective, please share them with the group.
Happy May, everyone!