Diabetes Forecast

5 Tips for Estimating Portion Size

By Allison Tsai , ,

Carbohydrate counting is an important element of diabetes care, but while it may sound like a difficult task, it doesn’t have to be. Two skills make carb counting easier: Memorizing the carb counts in certain foods and estimating portion sizes.

Portion know-how can tell you that, for instance, 1/3 cup of cooked brown rice has 15 grams of carb. This doesn’t mean that you can eat only 1/3 cup of rice, says Alison Evert, MS, RD, CDE, coordinator of diabetes education programs at the University of Washington Medical Center and dietitian and a diabetes educator at the Endocrine and Diabetes Care Center there, but it makes it easier for you to measure and count the carbs. So, a cup of rice would have 45 grams of carbs.

This is what Evert calls “carbohydrate awareness.” There are food lists available, such as the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute’s list, the The CalorieKing Calorie, Fat, and Carbohydrate Counter book, and the American Diabetes Association’s Choose your Foods: Food Lists for Diabetes, which give carbohydrate grams for certain portions of food.

1. Measure your food

Using measuring cups and/or a food scale, measure your food once or twice a month at home, says Evert. This can help you visualize what the proper portion of food—say, that 1/3 cup of rice—looks like on your plate. This is also true of beverages. Pour 8 ounces of your smoothie, soda, or milk into a liquid measuring cup to see what a recommended serving looks like.

2. Estimate serving sizes

Your fist can be an excellent tool for approximating portion sizes, says Hope Warshaw, MMSc, RD, CDE, author of Eat Out Eat Well: The Guide to Eating Healthy in Any Restaurant . When you’re unable to measure your food (while dining out, for instance), you can place your fist next to your plate to try to quantify the food you are eating. This is also true for other parts of the hand, which makes measuring your recommended 3 ounces of lean meat or tablespoon of dressing a cinch:

  • Fist = 1 cup
  • Palm of hand = 3 ounces
  • Entire thumb = 1 tablespoon
  • Tip of the thumb (to the first knuckle) = about 1 teaspoon

3. Read food labels

Probably the easiest way to understand portion sizes is to read a nutrition label. Though they won’t help you when dining out, food labels are invaluable tools when cooking at home or eating packaged food. But keep serving size in mind: If you’re eating an entire can of soup, but the serving size is half of a can, you’ll need to double the total carbohydrate grams.

4. Try portion control dishes

If visualizing your food on a plate helps you to understand appropriate portion sizes, consider investing in a set of dishware that removes the guesswork. You can purchase plates and cups that indicate how much of each food group should be on represented in your meal. (We love this gadget.) If you aren’t in the market for new plates, visualize your plate divided into quadrants. Each food group—protein, grains, veggies, and fruit—should take up one quadrant.

5. Limit your snacks

Sometimes it can be hard to stop snacking once you’ve started, particularly if your snack comes in a larger bag. Try portioning out appropriate snack portions into baggies or containers so you don’t get carried away when hunger strikes.

Get more great tips on carb counting!

The basics of carb counting.

Find out which foods contain carbs.

Our top carb-counting strategies.



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