Food is nice! And that’s why it’s very easy to eat more of it than you actually need – however, therein lies indigestion, and, often weight gain (or slowed down weight loss). That’s why getting a handle on your portion sizes is so important, it can make the difference between gaining weight and maintaining or losing it.
Now, the sad news is that a portion is often a lot smaller than you think – particularly of the nice things, but looking on the bright side, if you serve yourself the correct sized portion of treat foods you can probably enjoy them more often without consequences. But to do that you need to know what a recommended serving size is.
So, how much is a healthy portion of some common foods?
Well, the list below shows what you should be aiming for. Exactly how many portions of different foods you then eat a day will depend on factors like your age, body size, gender, exercise level, body goals and the type of diet that suits you best, but this gives you a good starting point.
How Much Is a Serving of…
We’re often told that dark chocolate is good for our health – and it is. It contains high levels of antioxidants, but it might surprise you to hear that most of the studies into the health effects of chocolate have used a small portion of 20-30g. Other experts suggest that 4 squares is a good amount. A happy compromise between the two is a small 15g bar like Green and Blacks mini bars – individual bars also decrease the risk of you overdoing it.
This came up when I was writing my latest book, The Macro Method – in it, I discovered that most people serve themselves up to 340g of cooked pasta – when we should actually only be eating about 180g – that’s around 75g of dry pasta. Ideally you should weigh this out, but if you can’t, it’s about two handfuls of dry pasta shapes of if you’re using spaghetti, it should fit on a $1 Aussie coin – or a British £1 coin.
Fruit Juice and Smoothies
150ml of juices or smoothies counts as one portion of fruit or vegetables -and ideally that’s all you should serve yourself. Fruit juice particularly is high in free sugars that we should avoid. Smoothies are a bit better as they still retain fibre, but it’s very easy to drink too much of them, so keep portion sizes sensible.
Nuts and Nut Butters
30g of whole nuts or peanut butter is the suggested amount to get health benefits but not overdo the calories. That’s a small handful of little nuts like peanuts, almonds or cashews and about 6 brazil nuts.
It’s also a tablespoonful of nut butter – ideally a sugar free one!
Potato doesn’t count as a vegetable when it comes to serving sizes and unfortunately you therefore get to eat a little less of it.
A good size for a jacket potato is around the size of your fist, a portion of small potatoes like new potatoes is two egg sized potatoes, three if they are smaller than that and serving of mashed potato is about the size of a clenched fist.
And yes, this does also count for sweet potatoes too.
A slice of bread from a normal sliced loaf counts as one portion, so, if you’re eating things like sourdough, rolls or French Bread means you have to visualise your bread in different shapes and aim to serve about that amount.
It’s a bit rough, but a good guide is half a bagel, half a bread roll, burger bun or hot dog roll, 1 slice from a large sourdough loaf, 1 small pitta, 1 tortilla wrap or two inch thick slices of French Bread will add to up to roughly a healthy portion.
Snacks can be part of a healthy diet – according to the NHS, it’s okay for around 20 per cent of our daily calories to come from snacks, although most of those should be of the healthy fruit, vegetables and wholegrain variety as opposed to the covered in chocolate and ready to dip in your tea type!!
As such it’s a good idea to keep snacks under 200 calories if you’re not trying to lose weight, which is normally around 2 biscuits – maybe three if they aren’t too high in fat and sugar.
If you are trying to lose weight, 100 calories is a good figure to aim for – it lets you have a little of treat foods so you don’t feel deprived, but not go over board.
Meat & Poultry
About 100g – the size of a pack of playing cards.
Ideally focus more on white meats like chicken or turkey, keep red meat to once or twice a week and, ideally try and have processed meats like sausages, bacon or burgers even less frequently than that.
Because fish tends to be lower in fat – or, the fat is contains are healthy omega 3 fats that we should be trying to consume in our diet, you can enjoy a larger amount of fish as a healthy portion.
A portion of salmon, for example, should be about 140g – that’s roughly the size of your hand.
30g is a portion – which is about the size of a matchbox.
Grating or crumbling cheese will make it look far more substantial and, the stronger the flavour the less you need to feel satisfied with what you’ve eaten.
This varies slightly, some lighter cereals will suggest a 30g serving, but if you’re choosing a denser cereal like porride oats or bran flakes, then 40-45g is classed as a serving. Just watch the sugar in some cereals it can be high.
If you’re going for Weetabix, a serving is two biscuits (and see why you should pick that here).
A cooked serving is around 2-3 tablespoonsful – of around 150g of cooked rice. If you’re just cooking for one or two, it can be easier to weight the rice dry in which case you should aim for 50g per person. Brown rice is healthier than white – and will also keep you fuller. If that looks like a small portion, adding some chopped cauliflower or broccoli can bulk things out.
Beans and Lentils
About 4 tablespoons of these is the suggested amount – and, fun fact, one thing that the longest living nations on earth have in common is that their diets often contain a lot of beans.
Sorry, guys – even a small bag of crisps contains more than a small portion which is supposed by just 10 crisps! To be fair though, if they’re an occasional treat just eat the bag!
If we’re talking fried chips, hot chips or fries – depending where you’re from the number is about the same. 10 chips is the suggested amount to go for.
About a quarter of an avocado is the recommended serving size – which gives you four meals to eat the squishy fruit in that millisecond from when it goes to harder than rock to squishy mess!
2 tablespoons of hummus is suggested as a snack sized portion – if you’re using it as the main protein part of your meal then class it as a bean and go for 4 tablespoons – but remember, some hummus can contain a lot of oil and extra ingredients like cream so just check exactly what’s in your favourite brand.
One medium sized fruit or a handful of something small like a berry is classed as one portion of fresh fruit.
When it comes to dried fruit, a handful is enough.
Ideally you should aim for 2 of your five a day to come from fruit – most of the produce you eat each day should be in the form of vegetables.
A portion of vegetables is roughly the amount you can hold in your two hands cupped together. You should have at least three of these a day – but the more the merrier.
Handily usually comes perfectly portioned in a 125g pot – but if you’re spooning out from a value pot then it’s about 2-3 tablespoons.
About 1 tsp – or 5g – of solid fats like butter and margarine is a healthy serving – it looks about the same size as the top joint of your index finger.
No more than 2 teaspoons is suggested as a healthy intake – which doesn’t go too far in a can of tuna trust me! Sneaky trick here, try also mixing it with vinegar, lemon juice or mustard which can help things go a bit further.
The same also goes for salad dressings – again, a good way to stretch these out further is to mix them with a little vinegar. This thins them down so they can cover more of your salad even if you are using a smaller portion.
Ice Cream/Frozen Yogurt
One scoop is a suggested portion of ice cream or frozen yogurt. Which personally, I refuse to listen to – I’ll take all the others but this one – nope. Sorry! It’s two or nothing!
So, there you go a list of healthy portion sizes for a lot of common foods – but have I missed your favourite? If so, drop me a note in the comments and I’ll try and get the answer for you.
Sources: British Dietetic Association Portion Size Fact Sheet
British Nutrition Portion Size Fact Sheet
British Heart Foundation Fact Sheet