Nutrition Articles

The Portion Distortion Guide

A List of Serving Sizes

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Selecting the right foods also means choosing portions that are proper serving sizes. The terms "portion" and "serving" are often used interchangeably, but they don't mean the same thing.

A "portion" is the amount of food you choose to eat for meals or snacks (like a plateful of pasta or a handful of raisins). In comparison a "serving" is the amount of food that experts recommend you eat (like 1 cup of milk or 1 ounce of bread). Servings are listed on a food's nutrition facts label too.

When choosing your portion, try to make it as close as possible to these recommended serving sizes.

Grains: Aim for 6-11 servings each day. Choose whole grains whenever possible.

Examples One serving equals That's about the size of
Bread 1 ounce (1 small slice, 1/2 bagel, 1/2 bun) Index card
Cooked Grains 1/2 cup cooked oats, rice, pasta Billiard ball
Dry cereal 1/2 cup flakes, puffed rice, shredded wheat Billiard ball

Fruits and Vegetables: Aim 5-9 total servings each day. Choose fresh fruits and veggies whenever possible.

Examples One serving equals That's about the size of
Raw fruit 1/2 cup raw, canned, frozen fruit Billiard ball
Dried fruit 1/4 cup raisins, prunes, apricots An egg
Juice 6 oz 100% fruit or vegetable juice Hockey puck
Raw vegetables 1 cup leafy greens, baby carrots Baseball
Cooked vegetables 1/2 cup cooked broccoli, potatoes Billiard ball


Meat and Beans: Aim for 2-3 servings each day. Choose lean meats and plant proteins whenever possible.

Examples One serving equals That's about the size of
Meat & Tofu 2-3 oz cooked beef, poultry, fish, tofu Deck of cards
Beans 1/2 cup cooked beans, split peas, legumes Billiard ball
Nuts & Seeds 2 Tbsp nuts, seeds, or nut butters Ping pong ball

Dairy: Aim for 2-3 servings of calcium-rich foods each day. Choose low- or non-fat products whenever possible.

Examples One serving equals That's about the size of
Cheese 1 ounce or 1 thin slice of cheese A pair of dice
Milk 1 cup milk, yogurt, soy milk Baseball

Fats & Oils: Eat fats and oils sparingly and in small portions. Choose heart-healthy fats whenever possible.

Examples One serving equals That's about the size of
Fat & Oil 1 tsp butter, margarine, oil One die




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Member Comments

  • I have trouble with the visual estimates, altho I have to do this when at a restaurant or meal away from home. My favorite method is weighing and measuring. Sometimes, I think I need the props with me to make visual estimates - deck of cards, etc.
  • This article was an eye opener for me! I thought I had a handle on this! Happy to know that I had it right on some things but learned the proper portions on other things. Well, this explains a lot!
  • AHIMSA417
    I'm not sure it's possible to eat that much food in the suggested servings, and stay under 2000 calories. The grains alone would take up most them.
  • Thx for the reminder!!!!
  • Measuring and tracking my food at home has really helped me learn portion sizes. This list is a great reference. I printed one out a few years back and had it on my fridge until I learned it. Now when we eat out it is much easier to estimate the portion sizes. Lucky for my waistline the portion sizes in the Philippines are tiny compared to the US! ha ha
  • No grains for me except for 1/4 cup cooked white rice 1-2 times per week. 1 TSBP of grass-fed butter and coconut oil per day. Never measure veggies, just eat a half a plate of them per meal.
  • I think I better get my measuring utensils out again.
  • I have to relearn portion control especially with grains.
  • Portion control has been a great tool that i've really incorporated into my diet and nutrition. I find I am satisfied with a variety of smaller portions of food in my meals and I've lost pounds as a result. I am always happy at my weekly weigh in.
  • The food scale, measuring cups and spoons are tools that help keep me honest and accurate with my portions. While I understand these visual cues are meant to be helpful, I just can't seem to be able to visualize them and often consider actually buying a deck of cards or hockey puck to keep in my purse :)
  • It's the cheese that got me. A pair for f dice is one serving! Definitely overeating on that.
  • LAUREL903
    Having to eat sans gluten and grains, as well as dairy and legumes for my continued good health, I think in terms of starchy and non-starchy carbs with protein and fats for my "food groups". My starches are mostly root vegetables, like potatoes, but also include the banana family and others, my non-starches are fruits like mango and tomato and vegetables like broccoli and onion and my proteins and fats include eggs, oils, fungi, meats, nuts and some seeds (I do not eat pseudograins, like quinoa, for example).
    I weigh/measure out almost everything.
  • At the very beginning I had all the measuring tools. Cups, spoons, ruler and most important Kitchen Scales. But weighing is not enough you have to know how many calories, carbs, fats and protein. That and the Nutrition Calorie Calculator, that was my favorite tool. Pat in Maine. THANKS SPARK
  • so is today's 1 slice of 7 grain bread.... really 2 servings... or does the calorie information contained on the load of bread give the numbers per slice.... or per serving and if the serving is 1 slice equals two servings... then 1 slice of 7 grain bread is 200 calories, thus a sandwinch has 400 calories of bread?
  • Very helpful info....referring again to this morning even. However, I tend not to agree with recommended servings. Especially on 6-11 servings of grains. I know we need fiber, but that's a lot of dense carbs and I eat lots of veggies instead. I agree with another member that veggies and grains should be switched. in addition, could also up the meat/bean intake to ensure we get enough protein and vitamins. I've read we should at least get in 25 grams of protein per meal or around 80 grams a day. Give or take, based on male/female and body mass. Anywhoo...just my humble opinions. Thanks again SP for the great tips.

About The Author

Nicole Nichols Nicole Nichols
A certified personal trainer and fitness instructor with a bachelor's degree in health education, Nicole loves living a healthy and fit lifestyle and helping others do the same. Nicole was formerly SparkPeople's fitness expert and editor-in-chief, known on the site as "Coach Nicole." Make sure to explore more of her articles and blog posts.

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