Many of us are guilty of super-sizing our portions now and then, of letting our eyes get bigger than our bellies, and of following the clear-your-plate mentality. But for people with diabetes, eating too much at meals can be especially problematic. Be smart about the sizes of the food portions that you eat, and you will go a long way towards meeting two of the most important goals of diabetes management: healthy weight and blood glucose control.

Portion control can help you reach and maintain a healthy weight

Did you know that 80% to 90% of people with type 2 diabetes are overweight or obese? Health outcomes for patients with diabetes improve greatly even with modest weight loss. The risk of death from heart disease, for instance, goes down. And the most effective way to lose the weight is to make healthier lifestyle choices. That's where portion-size-savvy comes in! Learn to select the right foods in the right amount and you could see the numbers on the scale begin to decrease.

Portion control can help you minimize post-meal blood glucose spikes

It is crucial that people with diabetes find a balance. Hyperglycemia (high blood glucose) can occur after meals when there is an imbalance between food, activity, and diabetes medication (e.g., if you eat more than planned). In the long run, poor blood glucose control may lead to complications. Measure out appropriate food portions, and you may be able to strike a healthy blood glucose balance.

So you know why you should get a handle on your food portions. But how do you go about getting it right? Depending on a person's goals for their weight and their individualized meal plan, portions will differ. For nutrition advice, consider speaking to your physician, dietitian, or other health care provider. In the meantime, here are a few guidelines that might help.

Get the picture about portion size

Portion size is a little different from serving size. Portion size is the amount of a particular food that you put on your plate. Serving size is a reference amount that helps you understand how much food is recommended from a particular food group. For example, Canada's Food Guide recommends 7 to 8 servings of vegetables and fruit per day for adult women under 50 years and 8 to 10 servings for men in the same age group.

Sometimes the amount of food in a serving is the same as a portion. But sometimes, your portion of food may contain more than one serving. Knowing serving size can help you figure out how much of each food group to put on your plate. Your meal plan may be very specific about both serving size and portion size. Sometimes you'll need to estimate, so groups like the Canadian Diabetes Association offer lots of visual comparisons to help us "get the picture."

A portion of fruits, grains, or starches, for example, would be about the size of your fist. One portion of vegetables, though, would be about as much as you could hold in both hands. A portion of meat should be palm-sized and only the thickness of your small finger.

You can also try the plate method: imagine your plate split into four equal parts, like slices of a pie. Fill one fourth of the plate with carbohydrates and grains (rice, pasta, potatoes) and another fourth with protein (meat, fish, poultry, tofu). The rest of the plate belongs to vegetables of the non-starchy variety. Add a glass of low-fat milk and a piece of fruit to complete this balanced meal.

The Canadian Diabetes Association recommends that everyone with diabetes talk with a registered dietitian on advice about nutrition and healthy meal planning. Being portion size savvy is an important part of your diabetes meal plan and can go a long way towards managing diabetes.