Hungry for health or hareesa? You don't have to compromise

By Heather Elia

The holiday season has come to an end, and it’s time to begin your new year with a fresh start focusing on health and wellness. You won’t need to compromise your favorite foods to meet your health goals.

It’s all about portion size.

We often serve our meals family style, meaning we lay our food out in large serving dishes and help ourselves to our favorites. When doing this, it’s helpful to utilize portion control skills, which is in the palm of your hands, literally.

Here’s how to use your hand as a visual guide to estimate portion size:

Depending on your hand size, your palm is equivalent to approximately 3-4 ounces. This is valuable to portion out your protein. A palm size of protein will contain roughly 21-28 grams of protein, just enough for a meal. Examples of protein sources include: Chicken, turkey, beef, fish, and eggs.

Your fist is equivalent to approximately 1 cup (8 ounces). Use a clenched hand to measure out your favorite non-starchy vegetables (examples include: asparagus, leafy greens, zucchini, mushrooms, turnips/ beets, eggplant, cauliflower, and broccoli). It’s essential to ensure you consume at least 1 cup (or one fist) of vegetables with each meal to reach a recommended goal of 2-3 cups of vegetables per day.

Use a cupped hand to assist with gauging your carbohydrate intake. A cupped hand measures out to approximately a ½ cup (4 ounces). Use this to help you measure out proper portions of carbohydrates like: rice, pasta, beans, and lentils.

Your thumb, from your knuckle to the tip, is about 1 ounce. Use it to measure out dense foods in you meal like; nut butter, olives, or cheese. Use just the tip of your thumb to estimate portions of calorically dense foods such as: butter, coconut oil, or sugar per each meal.

When we eat with our eyes, they deceive our mind thinking we are deprived of food when, in fact, we aren’t. The western food culture and our eating habits, leads us to consume almost double the recommended individual portion size, which is why it’s vital to practice mindful eating. This implies eating slower and paying attention to what we are eating. This will not only make it easier to stay in tune with our hunger cues, but will also prevent reaching for a second plate of dessert, which many regret almost instantaneously.

Speaking of dessert, let’s discuss sugar intake.

Reducing sugar consumption doesn’t have to be complicated! It’s a gradual process that won’t happen overnight, and once you start to cut back you’ll soon realize it’s something you should have done years ago. Over consumption of sugar has proven to contribute to health complications like: obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and tooth decay.

Tips to cut back on sugar:

Drink more water. Cut back on: sodas, energy drinks, lattes, and “healthy” smoothies. Opt for sparkling flavored water and unsweetened coffee/tea when trying to satisfy your needs.

Keep sauces on the side. Sauces are a common place to find added sugars. Instead of having something smothered in BBQ sauce, place it on the side and mindfully use as little as necessary. Try substituting sweet sauces with different flavors that don’t contain as much sugar, such as: mustard, pesto, or fresh chili/herbs.

Eat whole foods. Processed foods habitually use sugar as a filler to bulk up products. If you can consume food in its whole form, then take ad¬vantage of it! By doing this, you are getting the full nutritional benefit, and also aren’t ingesting unnecessary additives. Try food swapping to avoid processed foods. For example: instead of reaching for a granola bar, opt for mixed nuts/fruits instead.

There are several subtle changes we can make to our eating habits, and I hope you found these tips helpful. Controlling portion size and reducing sugar intake is one of the first steps toward mindful eating and preventing certain diseases.

Wishing you a HEALTHY New Year, with just a HINT of sugar!

Heather Elia is a Clinical Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Private Practice Clinician. She has a passion in helping others heal through the power of food and nutrition.