Photo: Jennifer Causey; Styling: Heather Chadduck Hillegas

Published by the British Nutrition Foundation, the guidelines may help more people understand how to portion out healthy amounts of each food group.

Zee Krstic
January 16, 2019

Many home cooks have their own tips and tricks for making sure they not eating too much at mealtimes (one celebrity swears by using airplane meals as a model, for example). But a new set of illustrated guidelines released this month by the British Nutrition Foundation could actually be the easiest—and cutest—way to understand what, and how much, you should be eating.

"Probably all of us have had the experience where you eat something and then you eat a bit more and perhaps a bit more," Bridget Benelam, a nutrition communications manager at the Foundation, told CNN. "And then 10 minutes later you feel much too full and you wish you had eaten a little less."

The new guidelines, which are similar to American guidelines focus on a 2,000 calorie per day diet, and illustrate proper portions using quantifiers like "handfuls" and "cupped hands" in order to eliminate the guesswork.

"It provides some practical guidance about portion sizes," Benelam said. "People don't necessarily have to weigh out their foods, because we know a lot of people don't want to do that. We're looking at how often you eat foods and food groups, so that you get the right balance."

Britain's new "Find Your Balance" guide asks dieters to keep to the following portions each day: 3 to 4 servings of carbohydrates, including pasta; 3 to 4 servings of protein, like grilled chicken or fish; 3 to 4 servings of whole dairy, including cheese; and at least 5 servings of fruit and vegetables throughout the day—if not more. In the organization's new illustrated guide, there's also room for a controlled amount of unsaturated oils, fats, and other foods most would consider "treats."

Photo courtesy of British Nutrition Foundation.

More on how to portion control at home:

CNN reports that the guidelines were calculated by the British Nutrition Foundation after they considered additional nutritional guidelines in other countries, including the United States and Canada, as well as consumption surveys issued to respondents in the UK. This was to help make portion sizes more realistic and create a greater chance of people actually responding to the content of the guidelines, Benelam said.

For both those living in the United Kingdom and elsewhere, these guidelines may illustrate the fact that good portion control practices don't always hinge on eating less.

"It's also about eating differently," Benelam said. "Things like fruit and vegetables, you don't have to hold back on your portion sizes generally, so long as you're not adding lots of oil or fat or sugar to them, you can have big portions that are relatively few calories."

When should you feel free to have a second helping, you may ask? Whole grains, fish, and legumes, if prepared simply with as little additives as possible, are good things to eat more of, Benelam says.

But don't mistake portion control strategies for having carté blanche to eat healthier foods in exceedingly large portions: Brierley Horton, MS, RD, Cooking Light's nutrition director, says that you can "most certainly gain weight even eating healthy foods in quantities that your body can't handle."

Photo courtesy of British Nutrition Foundation.

Horton says there are plenty of foods that are often overeaten because of a supposed health halo: for example, farro is a wholesome whole grain that can be prepared simply without added fats or oils, but anything more than two whole cups in one sitting could wreak havoc on an otherwise healthy meal. Each half cup, minus any toppings or add-ons, contains 100 calories, 26g of carbohydrates, and 1g of fat, which can easily add up after the first serving.

While the new British guidelines have made easy benchmarks for how much one should be eating, Horton also wants dieters to remember that portion control isn't a one-size-fits-all solution. These guidelines are based on daily calorie intakes, but the amount of calories that each person needs per day depends on individual circumstances, including weight goals, age, gender, and how active you are.

The bottom line: Using your hands to calculate how much food you should be preparing at mealtimes is much easier than weighing or measuring, and the British guidelines make it clear that increased fruits and vegetables are not going to sabotage your diet. But practicing proper portion control means you'll have to eyeball everything, including healthy ingredients and recipes. And, at the end of the day, these are meant to be guidelines, as each person's needs vary greatly.

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