If calorie tables are to be of any use, you have to count the serving size you really eat, not the nominal size in the table. With food that comes in clearly-defined units, such as eggs, slices of bread, onions, or bottles of beer, it's easy to count how many you eat. But food that's made in a pot and ladled onto a plate or items you use without ever measuring, for example peanut butter and jelly on a slice of bread, can be very misleading.
Consider mayonnaise. An item in a calorie table that tells you the stuff runs 100 calories a tablespoon is only useful if you know how many tablespoons you're actually spreading on your turkey sandwich. It's tempting to just run down the table, find the entry for mayonnaise, and use the number given. But if you're actually using something more like five tablespoons instead of one (it can be done, trust me), that little miscalculation alone is enough to make you gain forty pounds a year. When you start planning meals, figure on actually measuring out those things you currently dispense with the ``glop and slop'' technique.
You may feel silly, for a while, carefully filling a measuring spoon with catsup, using a measuring cup on peas, or weighing ground beef with a kitchen scale. But feeling silly sure beats feeling fat, and before long you'll get used to what various quantities of food look like and be able to largely eyeball it, as long as you're honest with yourself.
Processed food manufacturers are another source of confusion with regard to serving size. They all want to convince you their food is low in calories (and sodium and cholesterol and all the other hot buttons), so they frequently print numbers on the package based on an unrealistically small serving. Get used to looking carefully at the ``Servings per container'' line along with the calories. For example, I have in my hand a can of Campbell's Cream of Mushroom soup. For time immemorial, or at least since can openers were discovered by the Assyrians, people have been popping the tops off these little red and white food modules and dumping them into a saucepan along with a can of water. Warm and tasty, but hardly low-cal, you think. But a glance at the can reveals the startling claim:
Only a hundred calories? Oh, well, they probably assume you're splitting the soup with somebody else, right? But looking at the whole label reveals:
Serving size 4 oz.-condensed
(8 oz. as prepared - 226 g)
Servings per container 2 3/4
Two and three quarters servings per can? Now, that's convenient, isn't it? A little voice in the back of my head keeps whispering it's 2 3/4 servings a can to make the calories per serving come out 100, not in the interest of feeding an average family of 2.75 people. If you just glanced at the can, you might assume the whole can of soup was 100 calories. If you made the reasonable assumption that a serving was half a can, you'd conclude the total was 200 calories. But by reading the fine print the truth is revealed; each can of soup actually adds up to 275 calories--a far cry from that innocent little 100 on the label.
Or, how about snack food? Your favourite potato, corn, or tortilla chips probably come in at about 150 calories a serving, according to the bag. Well, that's no more than a glass of milk! But what's a serving? Hmmmm...one ounce. One ounce, now there's a laugh; when's the last time you or anybody you know sat down and polished off one ounce of potato chips? Got a postal scale? Go get it, and stack up potato chips until it reads one ounce. You may feel like an idiot, but I won't tell. Not a heck of a lot of potato chips in that ``serving,'' are there? If you're anything like me, a ``serving'' of potato chips is a lot closer to an 8 ounce bag than a one ounce handful. Now we're talking major league calories: 1200 to be precise, between half and three quarters the total calories burned by most people in a day. And that's before the bean dip.
Meal planning won't control your calories unless you eat the quantity of food you plan. Be extra careful with ``serving sizes'' to make sure they reflect the quantity you really eat, and not some marketeer's idea of what makes a product ``lite.''
By John Walker