Why portion sizes are important

You've heard the news that much of America -- including its kids -- is overweight or obese. If you are in that crowd and want to lose the extra pounds, the first step is to know what and how much you're eating.

One large obstacle is that most people are serving-size challenged, thanks to today's large portions: mega-muffins, heaping plates of pasta, behemoth burgers and extra-large bagels.

According the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI), a "portion" can be thought of as the amount of a specific food you choose to eat. Portions can be bigger or smaller than the recommended food servings. A "serving" is a unit of measure used to describe the amount of food recommended from each food group. For example, a recommended serving of whole grains would be one slice of bread or a half cup of rice or pasta. Current recommendations are for 6 to 11 servings of whole grains a day.

"We consume much more than we think we do," says Edgar Chambers IV, Ph.D., professor of human nutrition at Kansas State University. "This is especially true with condiments, such as salad dressing and butter; foods eaten one at a time, such as french fries; and foods spread out on plates, such as pasta."

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