Healthy eaters can get too much of a good thing


August 09, 1994|By Colleen Pierre, R.D. | Colleen Pierre, R.D.,Special to The Sun

People keep complaining they're eating only healthy foods but not losing weight. A few are even gaining weight. How can this be?

Despite the high quality of the food, they're still eating too much. Even the healthiest foods contain calories that mount up too fast for our physically undemanding culture. That's especially true for folks eating by habit or for emotional rather than hunger reasons.

Studies have shown many people underestimate the amount of food they eat by as much as 50 percent. One reason might be that different authorities offer different concepts of serving size. Portions suggested by most diet programs are based on the Diabetic Exchange List developed by the American Diabetes Association and the American Dietetic Association (ADA).

There, for instance, a medium potato is a serving and is assumed to be about 70 or 80 calories. A potato that size sits comfortably on the palm of your hand, with no overlaps. It's about 3 inches long and 2 1/2 inches wide. At 1 1/2 inches deep, it's slightly thicker than your hand. That's not very big. A medium-size Idaho baker is more than twice that size and contains about 220 calories.

Which is not to say you shouldn't eat a big baked potato. But you do need to account for it, either by counting it as 2 1/2 servings, or by paying attention to when you're getting full and eating less of something else, preferably fat or meat.

One tablespoon of butter or two ounces of lean meat contain 100 calories.

The Food Guide Pyramid agrees with the ADA on most serving sizes. Fruit is an exception. The pyramid says that a piece of fruit is a serving. That's one plum or one banana.

But the ADA defines it at closer to sixty calories. That's one medium red plum, or half a medium banana (about 4 ounces). A large black plum contains about 80 calories. A large banana comes in at 150 to 200 calories.

Enjoy the large pieces of fruit, but don't be fooled. Account for it, or eat less of something else when you start to feel satisfied.

Meat, chicken and fish portions are probably the most confusing of all, not because the authorities disagree, but because it's so difficult to understand how little of this high-protein food we really need. The Pyramid recommends 5 to 7 ounces per day.

Most women would be in the 5-ounce category, which means 2 ounces for lunch and 3 ounces for dinner would be enough. Protein needs can also be met by beans and legumes instead of animal protein.

Let's take a look at some commonly available items, just for the purpose of estimating portion size. These are not recommendations for what you should eat, since many are high in fat, which also must be accounted for. It's just a way of visualizing how much is enough.

McDonald's smallest hamburger: 2 ounces

McDonald's Quarter Pounder: 3 ounces

Big Mac: 3.5 ounces

Pop-top tuna: 3.25 ounces

Hardee's Ham Sub: 3.5 ounces

Roy's Grilled Chicken Sandwich: 3.5 ounces

Only McDonald's smallest hamburger qualifies as an appropriate lunch-size portion. If you ate any of those others for lunch, you'd only need 1.5 to 2 ounces of protein for dinner. You could do that by making a stir-fry, casserole, stew or salad that is mostly vegetables and grains and includes small bits of meat, chicken, fish, tofu or beans.

But you'd still have to pay attention to when you're beginning to be satisfied and stop eating before you're stuffed. Otherwise you'll overshoot your caloric limits and remain locked in your "too much good food" predicament.

Colleen Pierre, a registered dietitian, is the nutrition consultant the the Union Memorial Sports Medicine Center and Vanderhorst & Associates in Baltimore.

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