Diabetes and Food: Decoding Serving and Portion Sizes

Food often makes for a popular topic of conversation – what we eat, what we don’t, what we should be eating and what we need to change. But it can also be confusing with the wealth of conflicting information available, not helped by food labels that can at times be misleading for the average consumer.

While menu planning has a range of benefits for everyone, it can be especially helpful for people with diabetes. Figuring out how much we should consume per plate can go long way in managing your blood glucose levels, keeping your waistline in check and boosting your energy levels. But how much is too much? And what’s the difference between a serving size and a portion size?

Although the two are often confused, a portion size can be anything on your plate, while a serving is a recommended measurement, passed down by regulatory bodies. In reality, a generous restaurant serving of spaghetti is often enough to feed four or five people.

It is important for people living with diabetes to control how much glucose they consume. While you could fill your kitchen with measuring cups and specially designed implements to track portion sizes, the good news is there’s an easier way. Instead, you can simply use common household items to reflect the recommended serving sizes of any given food group. You’ll not only save on storage in the kitchen, it will also make healthy eating easier for you and your family.

Take a look at our suggestions below to see how easy it is to regulate what you eat and how much you consume.

Lean Meat & Poultry

Meat is a key source of protein for most Australians, with the Sunday roast a staple tradition for many households across the country. The bad news? Red meat has been linked to Type 2 diabetes and a host of other complications, making it a not-so-great choice on your healthy dinner plan. However the good news, is that lean meat, fish, chicken and turkey on the other hand, can be enjoyed regularly, in conjunction with lots of leafy vegetables.

  • Lean meat serving size = a small fist.

Healthy Eating Tip: Add some lime and chilli to the pan and stir-fry your chosen protein and veggies for a tasty lunch or dinner alternative.

Vegetables

Vegetables should be a big part of every meal in order to consume the recommended five serves a day. While starchy options like potatoes and swedes are filling and versatile, it’s best to reserve the root vegetables for special occasions, or once a week dinners. Instead it’s best to opt for greens, carrots, cauliflower and pumpkin. Broccoli is inexpensive and especially good for you, while spinach makes a fast salad filler without negotiating on taste. Experiment with lunchbox treats too, by switching out the potato chips for a selection of freshly sliced carrot sticks and a dollop of hummus – a healthy and nutritious alternative for the moments when you just have to snack.

  • 1 serving of broccoli = ½ cricket ball
  • 1 serving of spinach and salad greens = cricket ball
  • 1 serving of potato = computer mouse

Healthy Eating Tip: Raw is better. Vegetables lose some of their vitamin benefit through cooking.

Fruit

We should all be including two square serves of fruit into our daily diet, however this is especially true for people living with diabetes. The tricky part however, is knowing the right serving sizes.

It’s important to note that all fruit does contain natural sugar – a key consideration for people who need to manage their glucose levels – however most fruit has a low to medium glycemic index and contains a host of added nutritional benefits. So if you need to balance your glucose levels, don’t cut the fruit salad, rather minimise your biscuit intake and perhaps swap the can of coke for an in-season mandarin.

  • 1 apple = cricket ball
  • 1 serving of grapes = 12 grapes

Healthy Eating Tip: Steer clear of juice – although convenient, you’ll be loading up on refined sugars and unwanted carbohydrates.

Dairy

Dairy remains one of the most popular sections of the supermarket. In fact, many people enjoy entire holidays dedicated to the pursuit of a good cheese, sampling a variety in the process…and often expanding their waistline. While it’s recommended that we have three servings of dairy a day, this refers to the skim or no-fat variety – think skim milks and reduced fat feta.

  • 1 serve of reduced fat feta = 2 x 30ml shot glass

Bread

  • 1 serve = 1 CD (Image)

Keep that comparison in mind the next time you’re strolling down the bread aisle.  Very few slices are actually that small anymore and while there are a few equal to the recommended portion size, only a wholegrain option will do. White bread and multi-grain have very little nutritional value in general, and for people with diabetes, consumption can elevate the blood glucose levels. Sadly, some flat breads and wraps aren’t much better, although it does depends on your selection – be sure read the label and pay special attention to the carbohydrates column. You may be unpleasantly surprised by what you find.

Healthy Eating Tip: Be careful of rolls and bagels and just stick to what you know is good for you – think wholegrain and wholesome.

Pasta

Pasta is a mealtime favourite for many Australian families. It’s affordable, quick and easy to prepare and tasty, often pleasing even the most discerning eater in the family. However, it’s highly likely that you’re making too much – a common mistake made by many.

  • 1 serve = 1 tennis ball

Many will say that people with diabetes should not eat pasta; that the chances of rocketing glucose levels are just too high. And this is true – only if you pile the pasta high in your bowl and top it with liberal lashing of meat sauce and lots of cheese. For those with diabetes, the downfall of pasta is that it’s often framed as a main, when instead it should be enjoyed as a small side, with leafy vegetables mixed through.

Nuts

A hand full of nuts can give you that get-up and go you need to survive the 3pm energy dive, but many don’t know how many they can consume without surpassing the recommended serving. Nuts are kind of like M&Ms after all, it’s hard to stop at just one or two. So what’s the magic number? And which nut is the best nut for you?

  • 14 walnuts = 30ml shot glass

Why walnuts? University studies (performed by both Yale University and the University of Wollongong in 2009) have reported on the benefits of walnuts in the diet of people living with both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes, reporting improvement in blood vessel lining function and a reduction in fasting insulin levels.

Healthy doesn’t have to be difficult or expensive. Being armed with these simple meal planning tips can go a long way in helping you maintain a healthy, balanced diet and better manage your condition. We encourage you to give them a try, you might be pleasantly surprised by how you start to feel, not to mention the impact on your waistline. Good luck!

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