Got diabetes? Be portion size savvy

Many of us are guilty of super-sizing our portions now and then, of letting our eyes get bigger than our bellies, and of following the clear-your-plate mentality. But for people with diabetes, eating too much at meals can be especially problematic. Be smart about the sizes of the food portions that you eat, and you will go a long way towards meeting two of the most important goals of diabetes management: healthy weight and blood glucose control.

Portion control can help you reach and maintain a healthy weight

Did you know that 80% to 90% of people with type 2 diabetes are overweight or obese? Health outcomes for patients with diabetes improve greatly even with modest weight loss. The risk of death from heart disease, for instance, goes down. And the most effective way to lose the weight is to make healthier lifestyle choices. That's where portion-size-savvy comes in! Learn to select the right foods in the right amount and you could see the numbers on the scale begin to decrease.

Portion control can help you minimize post-meal blood glucose spikes

It is crucial that people with diabetes find a balance. Hyperglycemia (high blood glucose) can occur after meals when there is an imbalance between food, activity, and diabetes medication (e.g., if you eat more than planned). In the long run, poor blood glucose control may lead to complications. Measure out appropriate food portions, and you may be able to strike a healthy blood glucose balance.

So you know why you should get a handle on your food portions. But how do you go about getting it right? Depending on a person's goals for their weight and their individualized meal plan, portions will differ. For nutrition advice, consider speaking to your doctor or dietitian. In the meantime, here are a few guidelines that might help.

Educate yourself about exchanges

In diabetes lingo, an exchange means a food swap. Acquaint yourself with exchange lists and you will be able to tell which foods within a particular food group equal other foods in terms of nutrients. An exchange will contain about the same amount of carbohydrates, protein, fat, and calories as other foods within a group. It will also have an approximately equal effect on blood glucose levels. So, say you want to add a starch portion to your meal. You can check your exchange list to choose between eating a 1/2 cup of tabbouleh or 1/3 cup of brown rice.

Get the picture about portion size

Portion size is a little different from serving size. A serving is a reference amount and helps you understand how much food is recommended from a particular food group. Sometimes the amount of food in a serving is the same as a portion. Knowing serving size can help you figure out portion size, which is the amount of a specific food you eat at a given time. Your meal plan may be very specific about both serving size and portion size. Sometimes you'll need to estimate, so groups like the American Dietetic Association offer up lots of visual comparisons to help us "get the picture."

A serving size of fruits, grains, or starches, for example, would be about the size of your fist. One portion of vegetables, though, would be about as much as you could hold in both hands. A portion of meat should be palm-sized and only the thickness of your small finger.

Eat measure for measure

Individualized meal plans will specify how much of each nutrient you need to consume each day. Measuring out these amounts can seem tedious, but it is worth the effort. Buy yourself a gram scale to measure out appropriately-sized portions. Meal after meal, you should start to get good at "eyeballing" portions and "guesstimating" serving sizes. But keep your serving size skills honed by using a scale or other measuring tool at least once a week.

You can also try the plate-sectioning technique: imagine your plate split into four equal parts, like slices of a pie. Fill one fourth of the plate with carbohydrates and grains (rice, pasta, potatoes) and another fourth with protein (meat, fish, poultry, tofu). The rest of the plate belongs to vegetables of the non-starchy variety. Add a glass of low-fat milk and a piece of fruit to complete this balanced meal.

Create a portion control toolkit

As mentioned, you can use a gram scale or any other food measuring tool to help you choose appropriately-sized portions for your meal. Stock up on measuring cups and spoons in a variety of sizes. You might also find cups, bowls, and plates in sizes that match up to your desired serving size. Or you could try "portion control sheets," specially designed visual outlines that show you what a serving size should look like.

The American Diabetes Association recommends that everyone with diabetes talk with a registered dietitian on advice about nutrition and healthy meal planning. Being portion size savvy is an important part of your diabetes meal plan and can go a long way towards managing diabetes.

The contents of this health site are for informational purposes only. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition.

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