New research from the University of Sydney presented at the Dieticians Association of Australia national conference last week reported that the average muffin served at cafes was double the size of that sold in supermarkets.

It's is a timely reminder that the portions of some of our favourite foods are significantly larger than we realise, resulting in us eating hundreds of extra calories each year. Here are some of the most common culprits and the ways to avoid a complete calorie overload.

PASTA

Pasta is routinely demonised for its negative impact on weight but if you consider that a serve of pasta is just half a cup of raw pasta, and we typically consume four to five times this amount, the issue is our serving sizes — not the pasta itself.

This also means that pasta salads bought at supermarkets and hot pasta meals sold at food courts can contain as many as 1000 calories in a single serve, or at least double what we need for a lunch or dinner meal.

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The key to calorie control when you feel like pasta is to focus on quality over quantity — at most aim for 1 cup cooked pasta or an entree-sized serve, and think less pasta and more vegetables, seafood or lean meat-based sauce to control your overall intake of carbohydrates.

MUFFINS

Sydney University researcher Stephanie Liang recently found that the average serving size of a muffin bought at a cafe was 148g and contained an average of more than 400 calories — two to three times that recommended for a snack. It is the mix of fat, sugar and white flour along with the jumbo serves that mean the muffins we buy with our coffee contain more calories than an entire meal. If you like a baked good, always think small such. Something like biscotti or small protein balls will be much lower calorie choices — or share a muffin with four other people!

SMOOTHIES

If you make a smoothie at home using milk, protein powder and a little fruit, your breakfast drink will contain 200-300 calories. On the other hand if you order a medium or large smoothie from your favourite cafe or juice bar and it contains honey, yoghurt, protein powder, chia, fruit, nuts and milk your smoothie will more likely contain 400-600 calories along with 6-8 teaspoons of sugar.

The key to smoothie success? Make your own or always order a small and stick to three to four ingredients to halve your calories.

SANDWICHES

What could possibly be wrong with a sandwich? A couple of pieces of bread along with some meat, cheese and lettuce? Indeed if you made your own sandwich at home and use small slices of wholemeal bread, a slice or two of meat or cheese and plenty of salad, you would have made yourself a 300-400 calorie lunch.

Unfortunately it is the jumbo sized sourdough and Turkish bread sandwiches laden with fried meat, cheese, chucks of avocado and lashings of dressing that make the average sandwich found at a food court equate to 600-800 calories. Not all sandwiches are equal and if you like an old-fashioned sandwich for lunch, the key is to choose the thinnest, smallest slice of bread on offer; add one source of protein such as lean chicken or cheese or egg and add tons of salad minus any extra mayo, pesto or hummus. Then you will have a sandwich that contains 500 calories or less.

SALADS

Again if you make your own salad and pack it full of leaves, salads vegetables, lean protein such as tuna and a splash of olive oil dressing you will have made yourself a healthy, low calorie salad. On the other hand, if your salad order is a pesto pasta salad; chicken Caesar or even rocket, pumpkin and feta, your premade salad will contain the calorie equivalent of two meals, along with 40-60g of fat thanks to the dressing, cheese, nuts and avo.

In fact, most salads that are premade in chain stores are packed full of calories, which is why they taste so good. The answer — either choose your own salad ingredients, aim for just one source of fat whether this is cheese or dressing or avocado and skip the rice and pasta salad. Or even better, make your own and save plenty of calories and plenty of money.

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