In general, how much of a specific food you eat should depend on your gender, age and level of physical activity. For a personalized approach to the Food Pyramid, visit www.mypyramid.gov for tools to help build a unique plan of your own.
Let's say you get 2,000 calories per day, according to the dietary guidelines. You could use up that entire amount on just a few calorie-packed choices. But chances are, you won't get all the vitamins and nutrients your body needs to be healthy.
When deciding which foods offer the most benefits for the calories, ask yourself these questions:
- Is this food providing nutrients or empty calories? Try baked whole wheat pita chips with hummus instead of fat-laden potato chips and dip.
- How can I increase the nutrients in my meal? Instead of tortillas or taco shells, wrap taco meat in leaves of romaine lettuce.
- How does this food fit into the big picture? If you're craving a snack and you've yet to have a vegetable, munch on cucumber slices or carrot sticks.
Living in a world of super-sized fare, many people forget that the amount of food they eat is just as important as the types of food they choose. Keep these visual cues in mind when filling your plate or reaching for a snack:
- Meat: A reasonable serving should be the size of a deck of cards.
- Fruit: Keep servings to about the size of your fist.
- Cheese: Enjoy pieces that are about the size of your thumb.
By monitoring serving sizes, you might find that you can enjoy a variety of items normally "off-limits" when you're watching your weight. For example, the carbohydrates and fat in a cake may not be an issue if a sensibly sized slice is served as opposed to a large wedge. Simply balance a slight indulgence by skimming back on serving sizes later in the day.
Try these tips to better control serving sizes:
- Ask for a to-go container at restaurants and pack the food you will take home before you start eating.
- Avoid serving meals "family style." Portion food onto a plate and bring it to the table.
- Use smaller dinner plates.
- Don't eat directly from bags or cartons. Set the food on a plate or a napkin and put the rest away.