For reasons unknown to me, my email address ended up on a list that landed in the hands of the makers of “a meal and snack measuring tool” called “PortionMate.” I was contacted with an email that seemed more or less targeted at individuals who run healthcare facilities–or perhaps for dieticians and other providers to use with their patients. However, as I do not run such a facility and my students do not count as patients, it seemed I was not their target demographic. Nevertheless, the content on their website seemed interesting, so I emailed them back. I told them about this blog, and said that if they’d send me a set of the measuring rings–more on that in a moment–I’d be willing to write up a review on my blog. Now, it’s not exactly the type of health policy and health services research content that you typically find here, but if people would eat better, and lose weight, it would go farther in improving health outcomes than most anything we have achieved through policy of late.
They agreed, and within a week or two, I got a kit delivered to my door. I should also disclose that, other than the free kit, I was not compensated in any way for writing this review. Consider it a public service.
The basic idea behind PortionMate is that we have no idea what appropriate serving sizes should look like. Sure, we can read the side of the package, but as comedian Brian Regan jokes about ice cream, some guy probably put “1/2 cup” on the container as a joke, but now it’s already packed on all the trucks and it’s going out like that. In other words, we don’t adhere very closely to the serving sizes on the nutrition labels. To make it easier for us, you’ll often hear guidelines like “Eat a serving meat the size of the palm of your hand.” The problem with that, of course, is that we all have differently sized hands. PortionMate basically takes this concept and standardizes it, using a series of 6 differently colored and differently sized rings (see below).
As laid out clearly in the accompanying booklet, the green ring is roughly 1 cup, and is for fruits and vegetables. The yellow ring is 3/4 cup, and is for cereal and fruit. The orange ring is 1/2 cup, and is for fruits, vegetables, cereal, and beans. The blue ring is 1/3 cup, and is for cooked grains and starchy vegetables. The red ring is about 3 ounces, and is used for measuring protein (i.e., meats). Finally, the purple ring is about 1 ounce, and is used for measuring nuts, seeds, dried fruits, and cheese. As you can see from my little experiment, however, it is very important to use the correct ring for the correct food type. Sadly, while the chocolate chip cookie fits easily within the red ring, I don’t think this is a correct use of the product, and none of the rings are allocated for use with sweets (if you exclude fruit). That, as far as I’m concerned, is a flaw in the product.
My other main issue with this product is that I don’t see how it adds much value. For example, I’ve used the MyFitnessPal app to keep a food diary, and it pulls in all of the actual nutritional information from everything I eat. All I have to do is make sure to measure the serving size. So, for example, it is easier for me to pour cereal into a measuring cup and then dump it into the bowl–and likewise for the milk–than it is for me to use the yellow ring. On top of that, not all cereal serving sizes are 3/4 cup. Some are 1 cup. So I’d have to remember when to use the yellow ring and when to use the green ring. But the biggest problem is that there’s no bottom in the ring. Of course, if there were, it would be a measuring cup.
That said, I think that it could be a useful tool for gauging portion size of things like steaks, that aren’t as easily measured. Sure, you can go off the weight, but fitting it inside the ring is easier. The same might be true for other foods that I can’t think of right now off the top of my head. The bottom line? There is nothing “wrong” with this measuring tool. Indeed, it might even work well for you. I think the point might be to train you what proper serving sizes of various foods look like. And, in that respect, if used consistently, I think it would work very well. I, however, will continue to use measuring cups, and iPhone apps.