Updated 09 October 2013

Portion control: lead by example

By controlling your portion sizes and rather choosing homemade meals and snacks, you can improve your health, save on food costs and help to better control your weight.

Obesity is a major problem in South Africa, affecting especially women and preschool children. The rise in obesity rates has been paralleled by increases in the portion size of many foods and the prevalence of eating away from home – the South African Health and Nutrition Examination Survey’s (Sanhanes-1) showed that almost half of adult South Africans eat outside the home, with more than 1 in 4 people doing so weekly.

National Nutrition Week is celebrated from 9 to 15 October 2013. With an increase in obesity, especially in woman and preschool children, this year’s theme is "Eat less - Choose Your Portion with Caution", creating awareness and educating communities about the importance of portion control, i.e. eating healthily by choosing a variety of foods in the recommended amounts.

Being overweight and/or obese increases the risk for serious chronic diseases, such as heart disease and stroke, diabetes and some cancers, the SA Heart and Stroke Foundation (HSF) warns.

Says Anika Barnard, registered dietitian at the HSF: "In South Africa 2 out of 3 women and almost 1 in 3 men are overweight or obese. Results from the Sanhanes-1 survey show that overweight and obesity seem to be the highest among children aged two to five years. Some 18.9% of girls are overweight and 4.9% obese, while 17.5% of boys are overweight and 4.4% obese. And these figures have steadily increased in the past decade.

"The link between fast food intake, a sedentary lifestyle and weight gain is well established, where fast foods and convenience meals are generally high in energy (kilojoules), fat, salt and sugar and the portions are often larger than they should be."

The public is being encouraged to make portion control a daily way of life. "Eat a variety of foods at each meal, which means including foods from two or preferably more food groups at each meal. Limit unhealthy takeaway meals and deep-fried foods to no more than once a month," recommends Barnard.

"By controlling your portion sizes and rather choosing homemade meals and snacks, you can improve your health, save on food costs and help to better control your weight!"

Some practical ways of controlling portion size include:

  • Serving the correct portions of food onto individual plates, instead of putting serving dishes on the table.
  • Using smaller plates, bowls, and serving utensils. Plates with a darker-coloured rim can also help to encourage smaller portions, since one will tend to only serve food on the lighter-coloured portion of the plate.
  • Using a smaller glass to limit the amount of drinks or beverages consumed at a time.  Drink lots of clean, safe water.
  • Be aware that your body may only experience feeling “full” some time after eating your meal.  Therefore, eat slowly, chew properly and pay attention to your body’s internal cues to avoid overeating. Do not eat in front of the TV as this may lead to being distracted and not paying attention to signals of becoming “full”, thereby leading to overeating.
  • Encourage children to take a lunch box and healthy snacks such as fruit and yoghurt to school and to avoid buying meals and snacks that are high in sugar, fat and salt.

(Woman eating burger from Shutterstock)


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