Why is portion size important?
We can learn a lot from our caveman ancestors about food, nutrition, and portion sizes. While walking the land about 2 million years ago, stone age hunter-gatherers ate small amounts of fruits, vegetables, fish, and lean meat throughout the day. Storing food for long periods or transporting it long distances was impractical, so hunter-gatherers generally ate what they could when they could find it.
Today’s people have a different approach. Many admit not having had breakfast, having a great lunch, and an even bigger dinner. Thinking of your metabolism as a fire helps explain why this is not a good idea. Ideally, you want to keep your metabolism at a steady rate throughout the day. Skipping meals is like depriving a fire of oxygen. Eating large portions is like taking a large log and throwing it on the fire. In both cases the fire does not respond well. On the other hand, eating small portions regularly is like taking a handful of twigs and throwing them into the fire at regular intervals. The result: the fire burns evenly throughout the day and will prevent those sudden hunger cravings.
The ideal number of meals is six a day consisting of a good breakfast, a medium lunch, and a small dinner. You need less energy while you sleep, hence the smaller portion size near bedtime. Your 3 main meals should be supplemented throughout the day with 3 smaller healthy snacks, such as fresh fruit or a handful of nuts.
A bowl of morning oatmeal garnished with nuts is a great way to start your day. Porridge is an example of a slow-release carbohydrate. It releases energy slowly and steadily into your body. Quick-release carbohydrates, such as cakes, cookies, and candy, tend to have a sudden burst of energy followed by depression. It is this drop in energy that can make you hungry for more food.
Other foods like sweet potatoes with their skins, carrots, and parsnips provide us with the essential carbohydrates we need to stay healthy. Lack of carbohydrates in a nutrition plan can sometimes lead to problems concentrating and headaches.
For fruits and vegetables, you should have at least 5 servings a day spread over your meals and snacks. One serving is roughly equal to:
- 1 large piece of fruit such as an apple, a banana, or a pear
- 2 pieces of medium-sized fruit such as kiwis or peaches
- 1 cup berries or grapes
- 2 tablespoons of cooked vegetables
- 1 small salad bowl
In the case of meat and other protein sources, we should consume 2-3 servings a day. One serving is roughly equal to:
- 1 chicken breast
- 1 medium-sized lean steak
- 1 fish fillet such as salmon, cod or pollock
- 1 can of tuna
- 2 hard-boiled eggs
For fatty and sugary foods and foods high in salt, try to eat as little as possible. Reduce your intake of saturated fat by cooking with small amounts of vegetable oils and using low-fat spreads like margarine. Avoid refined sugars, as they are essentially empty calories and have little, if any, nutritional value.
So if you’re trying to start a healthier lifestyle, a good place to start is by eating the kinds of natural foods that our caveman ancestors would have eaten in small portions and at regular intervals throughout the day.