Wednesday, January 27, 2010

why what you eat matters, pt 6 - servings & portions & contents...oh my!

Well I took a bit of a break from this wee series (at least a week...golly, internet time goes so much faster than real time). As a friendly reminder, I am not a nutritionist, I'm just pulling from the information I've found in my research! So, in no way should these posts be considered good as gold, but rather, catalysts to furthering our knowledge base.

In the last post, I took some time to look at the Canada Food Guide in more depth, and how really: following the suggested servings on the CFG not only provides ample amounts of food for the appetite, but ensures that overeating is a thing of the past. However, and rightly so, a few questions came out of this post regarding serving sizes and portions. Truthfully, this is a topic that has a bit of grey in it for me, so I'll do my best - but again, make sure that any questions you have are answered by someone who actually has the answers. In fact, I'll tell you right now about dial-a-dietician. I believe the phone numbers (listed on website) are only available to BC residents, but the website does have some helpful information on it, and this is obviously available to all.

The questions that were raised out of the last post had to do with food labelling. Do standard food labels comply with the Canada Food Guide's suggested servings? If I eat what they suggest on the box, is this the appropriate amount? Oddly enough, no it isn't. I've pulled the following from the Canada Food Guide website FAQ's about food labelling:

Why are the serving sizes listed in Nutrition Facts not the same as those in Canada's Food Guide?

The serving size listed in the Nutrition Facts table is there as a reference. It identifies a specific amount of food for the purpose of declaring the calorie and nutrient content within the stated quantity. It can be compared to the amount eaten or the amount listed on other similar products. The serving size listed in Nutrition Facts is an amount that is often consumed at one sitting.

Consumers should compare the amount they eat to the amount of food listed in the Nutrition Facts table.

Canada's Food Guide recommends a specific number of Food Guide Servings per day for various age and gender groups. Consumers should also follow the recommendations in Canada's Food Guide to choose the amount and type of food needed for their age and gender.

An example:
A person consumes 375 mL of juice.
The Nutrition Facts information is for a 250 mL serving of juice.
A Food Guide Serving of juice is 125 mL, therefore this person consumes three Food Guide Servings of Vegetables and Fruit.

So you see, following appropriate portion sizes for your age/gender still require you to cross reference with the Canada Food Guide. For the first while, maybe keep a copy of the CFG on your fridge. After awhile, I promise it becomes habit, and guesstimating what a serving size would be becomes easier than recognizing the back of your own hand.
I suppose it might be easier if the serving size on the can matched up with exactly how much I was supposed to eat. And while this can make things a bit more tricky, it does have it's benefit. Here's what the people at the CFG have to say: 
How do I use the nutrition information on food labels in a healthy eating context?

Linking the label information to Canada's Food Guide messages can help focus attention on healthy eating, as a whole. The nutrition information on food labels helps consumers compare products more easily, determine the nutritional value of foods and better manage special diets. Nutrition labelling is a practical tool that helps Canadians make informed food choices.

 I would encourage you to get away from pencil-and-papering your eating habits (rules, rigidity, etc), and I also wouldn't suggest that you pull out your measuring cups each time you sit down to eat from now until forevermore. However, if this is new to you, and you recognize you're a bit off in your eating habits, do take the time to learn (and if measuring cups are required, use them as a tool and not a rule!)

Maybe you've looked at the Canada Food Guide's suggested servings and said "Hah! That is rediculous! I eat way more than that! What are they trying to do, starve me!?" - if this is you, you may need to take a step back and re-evaluate your eating habits (just as you should re-evaluate if the suggested servings are way above your normal daily intake). Try starting your meal with the suggested serving sizes. Eat all of it, and if you are still hungry in an hour, eat something else. The portion size suggestions aren't meant to starve (certainly not!) or force food down someone's throat, but rather, they are a guideline. Learn to listen to your body - it pays to know!
Like anything else, eating well requires knowledge, learning, and the ability to form good habits. Being aware about what we are putting in our mouths (and how much) is just as important as being aware of what your body is asking of you at meal time (and throughout the day). Are you hungry? How hungry are you? Taking that second to pause before you eat, and before you reach for seconds, can make all the difference when it comes to eating the appropriate amount of food. Do I mean "don't eat seconds, ever!" - nope.
Awhile ago, last year I think, I was watching TLC and on came a commercial about a new show called "I can Make you Thin". The man hosting the show was Paul McKenna. Now, I won't speak to his credibility as a hypnotist (which is, I believe, a large part of how he runs his practice), and I won't even speak to the title of the show (I would prefer it if he said "I can make you healthy"...I can't win them all can I?). But I will say that his "4 Golden Rules" of eating are, in my opinion, golden. Here they are:
1. When You Are Hungry, Eat
2. Eat What You Want, Not What You Think You Should
3. Eat Consciously And Enjoy Every Mouthful
4. When You Think You Are Full, Stop Eating

To me, and likely to many of you, these will seem like common sense. Of course! What I like about this list is that it is based entirely on common sense. In fact, I actually laughed out loud when I first heard someone tell me this man's "golden rules". Well, I could have told you that! I said. It took awhile for sensitivity to kick in, but once it did I realized: not everyone thinks this way. And certainly, not everybody knows that eating when you're hungry is the healthy thing to do. Not everybody knows their body well enough to even recognize when they are hungry.

If you think about these 4 things, and then compare each one (or the list as a whole) to most of the diets out there, you'll see that it contradicts what they often teach you. In fact, if "diets" could talk, they'd likely make a list that looked like this:

1. Eat when you're hungry? No, ignore your hunger, eat when it's time to eat. Hunger is a sign that it's working!
2. Eat what you want!? Are you kidding me? No! You eat what I tell you it's okay to eat! You eat what I tell you that you should!
3. Enjoy your food? Hah. That's what got you here in the first place. Beauty is pain, my friend. Enjoy your lemonade.
4. If you're full, you've eaten too much.

(...Okay, how can you tell diets annoy me?) I'll move on from this and get back to the point: awareness is a vital part of healthy eating. Awareness of the food you're eating, most certainly. And tools like the labels on the box and the CFG (or dial-a-dietician!) are there to help us out in this area! But being aware of our own bodies is also important. You know, I actually know a girl who can tell when she hasn't eaten enough sugar (from fruit or carbs) in a day. Or protien. Or veggies. She actually craves specific foods like avocado or pickles or McDonald's (which has it's place, IMO) when she hasn't been eating a balanced diet (and is obviously lacking the nutrients). I am more than convinced it is because she knows her body well.

Labels and the food guide are excellent tools - and for those of us at a loss as to what it means to eat healthy, I would even say they are vital starting points to get onto the right track. Remember that all those little numbers are important, but they should serve more as a guide than as a hard and fast rule - learn your body, and you'll be suprised to see that "following the numbers" becomes as second nature as breathing - all without the use of pencil & paper, or rules & rigidity.

Still confused about what a suggested serving is? Click here to get your own copy of the Canada Food Guide.

ps - Lavonne! Still haven't found the answer to your question, but I'm lookin'  - probably gonna phone Dial a Dietician when I get a chance! If you beat me to it, let me know what they say! Thanks Love.


Ryan André said...

*thumbs up* - clear as mud. ;)

Actually, it is starting to all make sense.

Ryan André said...

So, I was looking for a chart to print off for our fridge after a discussion with my roommate. I stumbled across this which explains what they mean by a serving, thought I'd send it your way.

Ryan André said...

and here's the pdf with all that info right on it in a nice printer friendly format: