Our bodies need proper nutrition to operate in a peak state. By proper nutrition I mean nutritionally dense foods, such as organic whole foods, not take out, fast foods and processed foods. With that said, most fitness/health minded folks think of food in terms of macro-nutrients (protein, carbohydrate and fat).
I feel I should explain what each macro is before we begin on portion size. It’s important to know what you put into your body.
Proteins are critical for every metabolic activity from energy to the creation of our cells. Protein is processed in the liver and approximately 20% (mostly branch chain amino acids or also known as BCAAs) is shipped out to be utilized right away. 20% is used to create additional protein in the liver and about 60% is catabolized. The amino acids that leave the liver are used to create the plasma amino acid pool. A minimum of protein is required for this protein turnaround, consuming higher levels of protein promotes satiety and assists in the maintenance of healthy body composition and immune function. Each gram of protein is equivalent to 5.7 calories or kcal.
Carbohydrates in the diet consist of sugar, starch and fiber. Their main role is the storage and transport of energy. At the final stage of digestion, carbohydrates are transformed into glucose, fructose and galactose, where glucose is the predominant form that reaches all the cells. Carbohydrates should originate from minimally processed organic whole foods, such as food starches, grains and fruit. Each gram of carbohydrate is equivalent to 3.9 calories or kcal.
Fats are necessary in a balanced diet. It is crucial that you ingest healthy fats and don’t over do it unless you are limiting carb intake. Think Keto or modified Keto diets where carbs are decreased while fat is increased. The three main fates are saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated. Saturated fat should come from coconut oil, organic grass fed butter. Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats (omega-3 and omega-6) should be your main fats. These fats come from olive oil, tuna, etc. We typically want the monounsaturated fats to be higher than the polyunsaturated fats. Each gram of fat is equivalent to 9.4 calories or kcal.
So if it’s this simple, why are Americans so fat? Two words, portion distortion. The following graphic shows how portions have increased in the past 20 years. We eat way too much and we eat the wrong foods. We tend to eat beyond satiety when we are presented with a huge portion of food.
We are eating more and moving less. This is why Americans or anyone that eats the “standard american diet” (SAD) is typically overweight and unhealthy.
What are the correct portions? Well, it depends on the individual; size, stature, and fitness goals but as a general rule, I love the hand/palm portion sizing illustrated in the following graphic.
You always have a food portion size reference with this method and it is custom tailored for you, as everyone has a different size hand.
Also many people don’t want to spend the time weighing every piece of food and calculate every macro. On a side note, I weigh every gram of food and track my intake on MyFitnessPal. I do this because I like to see my macros and micro-nutrient intake daily. However, for the average person the above chart will keep you at a healthy weight for you, provided you eat unprocessed, whole, nutrient dense foods. You also need to move a minimum of 10k steps per day. 20-30 minutes of that activity should be cardio (brisk walk). Cardio with weight training is optimal, but I realize that isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. A good, achievable goal for any individual is a healthy, well balanced, portion controlled diet and moderate activity.
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Heidi Condello Certified Weight Management Specialist