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A handy guide to portion control

Many people with diabetes learn how to count carbohydrates in order to manage their blood sugar. But even old pros occasionally slip up and find their blood glucose levels out of balance. One of the easiest ways to miscount carbs is by underestimating portion sizes, so here are a few handy tips.

Measure now, feel good later

Using a food scale and measuring cups can save you a lot of worry. This way, you'll know that you had exactly a half-cup of brown rice with 22 carbs,1 instead of "about" that much and "20-ish carbs." Over the course of a day, small inaccuracies can add up and throw off your carb count.

How to approximate

Don't have a food scale or measuring cup with you? Here are some ways to approximate:2

  • 1 serving of meat should be 3 ounces, about the size of the palm of your hand
  • 1 cup is about the size of a small fist or cupped hand
  • A half-cup is about the size of a tennis ball
  • The tip of your thumb, from the first knuckle up, is about 1 teaspoon or 1 ounce of cheese
  • A handful is about 1 to 2 ounces of snack food

Servings v. portions

Look at food labels to see what they consider a serving size. Often, we eat way more than the serving size on the package. Microwave popcorn is a perfect example―the bags typically say they hold 3 servings. But how many of us only eat a third of the bag? So if you eat more than the serving size noted, make sure you count all the carbs you take in.  

Psych yourself out

Try these tips for tricking yourself into eating healthier portions when you dine out:

  • It's probably just a good idea to avoid all-you-can-eat buffets
  • Split an entrée or dessert with someone else
  • Get an appetizer or a salad (with dressing on the side) instead of an entrée
  • If the restaurant usually brings bread or chips to the table, ask them not to
  • Get a take-home box at the beginning of the meal and save half for dinner tomorrow

Create your plate

The American Diabetes Association has a great guide for healthy eating, based on how much of your plate should be devoted to each type of food. Imagine a line down the center of your plate. Fill 1 side with non-starchy vegetables like greens, beets or tomatoes. Now split the remaining half into 2 smaller halves. In one quarter, put grains or starchy foods like brown rice, quinoa or beans. Save the last quarter for proteins such as lean turkey, salmon or eggs.3

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1USDA. USDA foods product information sheet: Rice, brown, long-grain, parboiled. Available at: Accessed October 6, 2016.

2Iowa Department of Public Health. The secret to serving size is in your hand. Available at: Accessed October 6, 2016.

3American Diabetes Association. Create your plate. Available at: Accessed October 6, 2016.

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