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

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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.

Member Comments

  • is there a printer-friendly version of this? maybe if i put it on the fridge, the chef will follow it! lol. - 6/12/2015 11:34:41 AM
  • It seems like eating 8-11 serving of grains, all that fruit, etc would have me eating a LOT more calories than I need to lose weight or even maintain. How do you eat all that and stay at 1300 cals? I track what I eat and weighing with a scale is really important. My brain always tries to fool me into what 1 oz looks like. - 1/30/2015 10:19:47 AM
  • SVANDERMEER
    Yikes. This is helpful as I tend to go by what's on the box or can. The good news is that somehow, thanks to this site, after years of having NO success, I've lost five pounds just by counting calories and using the tracker. - 1/26/2015 9:50:31 AM
  • love the comment about a baseball sized glass of milk! - 1/23/2015 4:11:25 PM
  • Getting a food scale was a real eye opener for me. My "portions" were often almost double what was stated on the label. I also started using the "juice glasses" from my childhood. They hold only 4 ounces. - 1/23/2015 6:09:28 AM
  • TRENAMARIE
    Portion control, portion control, everything in moderation, I have been using smaller plates too, - 1/23/2015 5:58:22 AM
  • I went and bought several sets of measuring cups, spoons and plastic measuring sets at the local Dollar Tree. It's so much easier to measure my food now with plenty of clean stuff. And I leave the correct cup in the cereal box and don't have to hunt one down. - 1/22/2015 2:20:52 PM
  • Would like to see better comparisons than spherical objects. They don't sit well on a plate or in a cup. Deck of cards and dice work, but trying to measure Pi is rather difficult. 6oz is the standard size of a small juice glass or those small yogurt, cottage cheese containers in the 6 pack. I've measured my serving spoons. My ladle is 1/3 cup so if it is flat it is a 1/3 if heaping 1/2. 8oz is 1 cup.
    Cereal is tricky. Watch the box for serving size. Many cans are multiple servings as well. I think the "about 2" servings should be banned. Anything less than 4 servings should document the whole container. - 1/22/2015 8:50:15 AM
  • 2METOO
    Since I am first for 2015. I have pull all my utensils together, 1cup measuring cup, measuring spoons and scale out and my list on the refrigerator. I am ready now!
    - 1/8/2015 10:45:57 AM
  • JWOOLMAN
    The protein calculator I mentioned is based on your ideal weight, not your current weight. Not much muscle in the extra... :) - 11/24/2014 3:12:12 AM
  • JWOOLMAN
    Goldenrodfarm- 64 grams of protein is more than enough for most of us. Look at jacknorrisrd.com for good detailed info aimed especially at vegans. Follow the Protein link on the right for a good article including a calculator. That calculator estimates 40 grams of protein for a 110 lb person. It's not hard to reach and exceed that even while eating vegan in any recommended Spark calorie range and you don't have to eat soy to do it. Another target I've seen recommended in medical info for vegetarians/vegan
    s is to aim for at least 12% to 15% of calories from protein. Our absolute protein needs for routine repairs is generally in the 5% range, but all recommendations add a safety margin to allow for differences in needs and absorption/digest
    ion. - 11/24/2014 3:10:25 AM
  • just out of curiosity I logged in the foods outlined above, meats 3 oz chicken, 1/2 cup black beans, 1 oz almonds, 1 cup skim milk, 1 oz cheddar cheese/cabot, 2 oz mini wheat bread, 1 cup brown rice, one 3/4 cup dry, cooked 3 serving oatmeal, 1 cup raspberries, 1/4 cup dried golden plums, 1 small apple, 1 cup buttercup squash. 1 cup carrots. That is 3 servings meat, 6 servings of grain, 2 servings of dairy, 5 servings of veggies/fruit. Well the protein only comes to 64. you can add more servings of grains but they are not much in the way of protein and a lot of additional calories for the meager amount of protein in the vast majority of grains with the exception of soy. I never make my protein goal, and this outline doesn't really make the proper protein unless you are eating a really low calorie diet. I don't like the protein powder way, and can't see any other option unless you add more meat. - 11/14/2014 2:16:08 AM
  • I'm kind of intrigued with the thought of a base ball sized glass of milk. - 6/16/2014 12:23:40 AM
  • COOPERREID
    Hi Sparkpeople family,

    I no longer have problems with portion control. I order a diabetic template from the DB, you use this template thats already measured you just put it in the middle of your plate. It tells you when to stop full or half full for vegetables, meat, fruit, or starch. It wasn't expensive. - 2/8/2014 6:39:17 PM
  • BERNARDAG
    Interesting measurements, good guide when we have to eat in restaurants or social events, actually is a little portion, my concern is that checking the ingredients from Spark recipes I can see any control of that, I can see how it comes with a lot oil, flour etc., if I am counting calories in one meal for instance it is over passing . Personally I have to subtract many ingredients of them lest tasty but worthy for me - 11/13/2013 12:03:17 PM

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