Calling portion control! How simple trims make big differences

We're all probably aware of expanding waistlines in the UK, but the increase in portion sizes over the last few years is a less talked about issue. Meals in many restaurants have gradually got larger, while crisps, chocolate bars and other snacks have also increased in size over the last 20 years or so.

Indeed, even the health-conscious amongst us can be knocked off course from a healthy diet by larger portion sizes or bigger bars of chocolate, and find it increasingly easy to over-eat. One possible factor for this is cost, with foods in larger packaging being relatively inexpensive to buy. However, the cost to our health could be enormous.

As well as the types of food we eat, the amount of food we eat is really important in ensuring we manage to get all the nutrients we need and maintain a healthy body weight. We all probably know that we should eat five portions of fruit and vegetables a day, but what exactly makes up a portion of anything?

It's normally a good idea to keep an eye on the packaging your food comes in for a guide. Many foods will state how many people they can serve on them, and it should go without saying that there is no point in buying a low-calorie meal for two and eating all of it yourself. Food labelling at least allows us to see like for like comparisons, and so should make it easier to choose healthier options.

Basic portion sizes

With portions of fruit, two or more small fruits such as plums or satsumas will make up one portion. One medium fruit, such as an apple or a banana will equal one portion. It is a little more varied with larger fruit, with half a grapefruit making up one portion, or 1.5 cm slice of melon the same. Around 30g of dried fruit will also make up a single portion.

With vegetables, your best measurement is a heaped tablespoon. Four tablespoons of spinach, spring beans or green beans make up one portion, three tablespoons of carrots, peas or sweetcorn make up a portion, as do three tablespoons of any beans. However, you should remember that beans and pulses can only make up one portion per day no matter how much of them you eat.

With pasta, one portion is roughly the size of an ice-cream scoop.

One portion of meat or fish is roughly the size of the palm of your hand, not including your fingers.

One portion of low-fat cheddar cheese is roughly the size of three or four standard dice, or the size of your thumb.

Tips for reducing portion sizes

• Plan your meals in advance

• Don't skip meals, you're more likely to eat portions which are too large if you're starving yourself

• Measure and weigh your food. This can be particularly useful when eating cereals, rice and pasta, to help prevent you from eating too much

• Be aware of the difference between portion size and serving size. A big bag of crisps may contain several portions, and if you eat the whole bag at once, you'll need to multiply the fat, sugar and calorie counts by portions included for an accurate reflection

• Use smaller plates and box up any left-overs to prevent you going back for seconds

• Try to choose foods packaged in individual serving sizes, at least initially

• When you eat at restaurants, try to fill half your plate with vegetables or salad, and ask your waiter or waitress to pack half of your meal to take away to prevent you from over-eating

• When you have dessert, try to share it wherever possible.

Trying to use some of these basic guidelines can help save hundreds of calories a day, and potentially thousands over the course of a week. This can have a tremendous outlook on your overall health, and is particularly useful when trying to lose weight. If you couple this with filling a third of your plate with healthy sources of carbohydrates, you'll also ensure that less food does not mean having to go hungry too.