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Tuesday, February 07, 2006

How does your Spaghetti Sauce Serve You?

Calculating USDA or DASH servings in a dish is not rocket science. For example, here's how I work through a recipe for an Italian-American style main-course pasta dish, full of chunky vegetables, accompanied by browned mini-meatballs. It is a hearty and satisfying dish.

Sounds like a good idea! But how many servings of meat, vegetables, grain, fat come in each serving? What size is a serving?

First, the sauce. The inspiration -- Vegetarian Spaghetti Sauce -- comes from the NIH's Heart Healthy Recipes pages and also appears in the DASH Diet book. I used the USDA National Nutrient Database for the "official" sizes of the whole onions and tomatoes, and to translate that into cups of chopped vegetables.

Vegetarian Spaghetti Sauce

2 small onions (2.5 oz each); chopped (7/8 cup total)
3 cloves garlic
2 tablespoons olive oil
8 ounces tomato sauce, no salt added ; (one small can)
6 ounces tomato paste, no salt added ; (one can)
2 medium tomatoes (2 3/5" dia, 1.6 oz each); chopped (1 1/3 cup total)
1 1/4 cups zucchini ; sliced
1 cup water
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon dried basil

Total Fat: 6 teaspoons -- 6 DASH servings
7/8 cup onions
3 tablespoons garlic
1 cup tomato sauce
3 x 3/4 cup tomato paste (because paste is 3 times as concentrated as sauce)
1 1/3 cup tomatoes
1 1/4 cup zucchini

Total Vegetables: 6.77 cups -- 13.54 DASH servings

By my reckoning, if we divide that 6 ways, everyone gets 2.3 half-cup servings of vegetables and 1 serving of fat. If we divide it 7 ways, It's still about 2 servings of vegetables and nearly 1 of fat.

But what size is that serving? According to the NIH recipe, that's about 4.5 cups (6 3/4 cup servings) after cooking. Considering there are 6.77 cups of vegetables and 1 cup of water in there, that might seem surprising, but there is an awful lot of empty space in a cup of chopped vegetables (see You CAN put 2 cups of vegetables in a 1 cup bag and How big is your head? for an example), and you can count on some of the water to evaporate during cooking. I have never actually measured the volume of the sauce after I've made it. It's messy and I don't have a measuring cup that big. For now, I'll stick with the published values.