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By Barbara Quinn
For example, one serving of milk is defined by nutrition experts as 8 ounces or 1 cup. Two cups (16 ounces) would be two servings, and so on. Most adults need two servings or 2 cups of a calcium-rich food such as milk, yogurt or fortified soy beverage every day for optimal health. On the other hand, a portion of milk — what one actually consumes at a meal — might be a whole other animal.
Case in point: On a recent road trip, we stopped at a popular restaurant for breakfast.
I ordered a glass of milk with my meal.
“Do you want the medium or large size?” the waiter asked.
After thinking it somewhat odd that “small” was not even an option, I asked, “How big is the medium?”
“Sixteen ounces,” she said. “And the large is 32 ounces.”
So… my dietitian brain calculated, a medium portion at this restaurant provides two servings of milk — my daily quota. And the belly-busting 32 ounces — a whole quart — could easily feed a family of four.
Why does this matter? Large portions add extra nutrients and they also add extra calories. One cup (8 ounces) of low-fat milk, for example, contains about 300 milligrams of calcium, 120 calories and as much protein as an egg. A 32-ounce portion weighs in at almost 500 calories, a day’s supply of calcium and close to a daily quota for protein. We need to know the difference.
Not that we always have to consume standardized serving sizes. I just need to know that if I consume a 16-ounce portion of milk, I have just met my daily goal of two servings of a high-calcium food.
Nutrition guidelines also tell us to consume two to three servings of a protein-rich food each day. And this recommendation comes with the understanding that one serving is equivalent to 3 ounces of cooked meat, fish, tofu, poultry or the like. However, Mr. Bodybuilder might eat a 12-ounce portion of steak which — in nutrition terms — equates to four servings.
Bottom line: If we understand serving sizes, we can figure out how the actual portions we eat stack up to recommendations for optimal health (and weight).
I can also learn to order smaller portions. Or to share gargantuan restaurant portions with someone else. That’s important, too.
Barbara Quinn is a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator at Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula.