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Portion Sizes For Weight Loss

Eating the right portion sizes is important for weight loss.  Learning food portion control for weight loss can be challenging at first.

But with some small changes in the way you eat and think of as “food portions” can get you eating healthier and losing weight.

It’s impossible to measure every morsel that passes your lips.

However, it is a good idea to start measuring foods and beverages until you get a feel for the right portion sizes in order to lose weight. 

It is a super-sized world out there, and most people are surprised to find that their idea of a single serving is actually two or three.

If you are into bells and whistles, there are food scales that are pre-programmed with nutritional information, as well as scales that will keep a running total of your daily food and nutrient intake for you.

However, the only tools you really need are a simple and inexpensive food scale, dry and liquid measuring cups, and learning how to read food labels.

Understanding Portion Sizes

We often relate a serving size to the amount of a particular food that is put on our plates like at restaurants.

Unfortunately this gives us a distorted view of what true portion sizes are for that food item. 

Portions served to us are in most cases more than a true serving size.  This makes food portion control more difficult.

We also do not often measure our foods even when at home and “guess” at what a ½ cup is or 1 serving of a food item.  This again is usually a misleading view of a true portion size if you have never had some visual to measure against.  

Unless you have some method to visualize your portions or take the time to physically measure all your food items, then you are risking eating more than the true portion size and will be consuming more calories than you are expecting. 

Measuring is a great way to get a feel for a real serving size and helps you learn food portion control.  However, you can get a general idea of a portion size if you have something to relate to the serving size. 

Use the list below as a general rule of thumb when placing portions on your plate.
  • A woman's fist or the size of a baseball equals one serving of vegetables or fruit.
  • A rounded handful is about 1/2 cup of cooked rice or pasta.
  • The size of a deck of cards is approximately 3 ounces of meat, which is a typical serving size.
  • A golf ball or the size of a large egg is about 1/4 cup of nuts.
  • A computer mouse is about the size of a small potato.

Measuring is still the best way to ensure you have the right portion size.

Once you have measured your foods for awhile you will get a better feel for the right serving sizes.  

If you are unsure if you have the right size, try putting less on your plate and then if you are still hungry, then go for a second “half” portion to play it safe.

The Food Pyramid and Portion Sizes

Steps to a Healthier You

According to the US Government food pyramid, there are six food groups which should make up your daily meals.  These groups include grains, vegetables, fruits, oils, milk and meats and beans. 

The number of portions size you need for each of these groups will depend on your age, gender and level of activity.


Use the links below to go to the specific food group or just scroll through the page.
The recommended daily allowances are shown for women and men.  If you are under 19 years of age, then be sure to read this article on teen calorie intake to see what the right portions and foods are for you.

Grain Portion Sizes


wheat breadFoods in this group are made from wheat, rice, cornmeal, oats and any other cereal grain is part of the grain food group.  

Typical foods made from these grains include pastas, breads, cereals, tortillas and grits just to name a few. 

These foods are made with either whole grains or refined (processed) grains. 

When selecting your portion sizes from the grain foods you should aim to make them whole grains versus processed. 

During the processing of grains valuable nutrients are removed like dietary fiber, iron and many B vitamins.

Daily Recommended Servings

Women

Age Daily Recommendation Minimum Amount
19 - 30 6 ounce equivalents 3 ounce equivalents
31 - 50 6 ounce equivalents 3 ounce equivalents
51 + 5 ounce equivalents 3 ounce equivalents


Men

Age Daily Recommendation Minimum Amount
19 - 30 6 ounce equivalents 3 ounce equivalents
31 - 50 6 ounce equivalents 3 ounce equivalents
51 + 5 ounce equivalents 3 ounce equivalents


Portion Sizes for Grains

Here are some typical 1 ounce servings of grains.
  • 1 Slice of Bread
  • 1 Cup Cold Cereal
  • 1/2 Cup Cooked Rice, Pasta and Cooked Cereal
  • 1 "Mini" Bagel or 1/4 Large Bagel
  • 5 Whole Wheat Crackers
  • 1/2 English Muffin
  • 3 Cups Popcorn
  • 1 Pancack (4 1/2 inch diameter)
  • 1 Tortilla (6 inch diameter)

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Vegetables Portion Sizes


Veggies are a great source of fiber and vitamins and help make you feel fuller. These low calorie foods are a great addition to any weight loss plan.

veggiesSome vegetables are higher in carbohydrates than others and in fact, the diabetic food pyramid includes these higher carb veggies in their grains, breads and other starches food group.

You can read this article on diabetic diets to learn more about their food pyramid.

Foods in this group include any vegetable and 100% vegetable juices. The group is divided into 5 subgroups based on their nutrient content.

These groups are dark green, orange, dry beans and peas, starchy and other vegetables.

You should try to get in more dark green and orange vegetables as this offers the most nutritional value. Some common dark green veggies include broccoli, spinach, turnip and collard greens, watercress and Romaine lettuce. Orange veggies include acorn squash, carrots, pumpkin, sweet potatoes and butternut squash.


Daily Recommended Servings

Women

Age Daily Recommendation
19 - 30 2 1/2 cups
31 - 50 2 1/2 cups
51 + 2 Cups

Men

Age Daily Recommendation
19 - 30 2 1/2 cups
31 - 50 2 1/2 cups
51 + 2 Cups

The food pyramid also has weekly recommendations for each of the 5 vegetable groups.

Weekly Recommended Servings

Women

Age Dark Green Orange Dry Beans
& Peas
Starchy Other
19 - 30 3 cups 2 cups 3 cups 3 cups 6 1/2 cups
31 - 50 3 cups 2 cups 3 cups 3 cups 6 1/2 cups
51 + 2 cups 1 1/2 cups 2 1/2 cups 2 1/2 cups 5 1/2 cups

Men

Age Dark Green Orange Dry Beans
& Peas
Starchy Other
19 - 30 3 cups 2 cups 3 cups 6 cups 7 cups
31 - 50 3 cups 2 cups 3 cups 6 cups 7 cups
51 + 3 cups 2 cups 3 cups 3 cups 6 1/2 cups


Portion Sizes for Vegetables

A serving of vegetables is 1 cup raw or cooked veggies or 1 cup of 100% vegetable juice.  Additionally 2 cups of raw leafy greens is considered 1 cup or 1 serving.

Here are some other typical serving sizes for vegetables equal to one cup.
  • 3 Spears of Broccoli
  • 2 Medium Carrots or 12 Baby Carrots
  • 1 Large Ear of Corn
  • 1 Medium Potato
  • 2 Large Stalks of Celery
  • 1 Large Pepper
  • 1 Large Tomato
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Fruit Portion Sizes


fruitsIn this food group are all fruits and 100% fruit juices. 

Fruits offer lots of nutritional value and are a healthy choice.  Your fruit servings can be fresh, canned, frozen or dried. 

Be sure to read the ingredients for any canned, frozen or dried fruits to see if any additional ingredients, such as sugar, have been added.

It’s best to buy these where they are packaged in their own fruit juices.

Daily Recommended Servings

Women

Age Daily Recommendation
19 - 30 2 cups
31 - 50 1 1/2 cups
51 + 1 1/2 cups

Men

Age Daily Recommendation
19 - 30 2 cups
31 - 50 2 cups
51 + 2 cups

Portion Sizes for Fruits

A typical serving for fruits is 1 cup of fruit or 100% fruit juice.  For dried fruits, 1/2 cup is considered a 1 cup serving.

Here are some other typical serving sizes for fruits equal to one cup.
  • 1/2 Large or 1 Small Apple
  • 1 Large Banana, Orange, Peach
  • 1 Medium Grapefruit or Pear
  • 32 Seedless Grapes
  • 3 Medium or 2 Large Plums
  • 1 Small Wedge of Watermelon
  • 8 Large Strawberries
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Milk Portion Sizes

glass of milk
This group includes milk and products made with milk.  However, products made with milk that do not retain or have very little calcium are not in this group. 

These include butter, cream cheese and cream.  The foods in this group include both liquid milk products as well as solid milk products. 

Typical foods in this group include milk, yogurts, cheeses and milk based desserts like pudding, ice cream and ice milk. 

When selecting milk products you should look for fat free or low fat products. 


Daily Recommended Servings

Women

Age Daily Recommendation
19 - 30 3 cups
31 - 50 3 cups
51 + 3 cups

Men

Age Daily Recommendation
19 - 30 3 cups
31 - 50 3 cups
51 + 3 cups

Portion Sizes for Milk

A cup of food in the milk group is 1 cup or milk or yogurt, 1 1/2 ounces of natural cheese and 2 ounces of processed cheese.

Here are some other typical servings of milk.
  • 1/2 cup Evaporated Milk
  • 1 Regular 8 ounce Yogurt
  • 1/3 Cup Shredded Cheese
  • 1/2 Cup Ricotta Cheese
  • 2 Cups Cottage Cheese
  • 1 1/2 Cups Ice Cream
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Meats and Beans Portion Sizes


steakThis group includes all foods made from meat, poultry and fish. 

Also included are dry beans or peas, eggs, nuts and seeds. 

The dry beans and peas are both in this group and the vegetable group. 



Your meat and poultry selections should be lean cuts or low fat. 

Fish, nuts and seeds are a great source of your healthy fats like Omega-3 fatty acids so you should select these foods often.

Daily Recommended Servings

Women

Age Daily Recommendation
19 - 30 5 1/2 ounce equivalents
31 - 50 5 ounce equivalents
51 + 5 ounce equivalents

Men

Age Daily Recommendation
19 - 30 6 1/2 ounce equivalents
31 - 50 6 ounce equivalents
51 + 5 1/2 ounce equivalents

Serving Sizes for Meats and Beans

A 1 ounce equivalent is equal to 1 ounce of meat, poultry or fish, 1/4 cup cooked dry beans, 1 tablespoon of peanut butter, 1 egg or a 1/2 ounce of nuts or seeds.

Here are some common portion sizes and ounce equivalents.
  • 1 small steak is about 3 1/2 to 4 ounce equivalents
  • 1 small chicken breast equals 3 ounce equivalents
  • 1 can of tuna is 3 to 4 ounce equivalents
  • 1 small trout equals 3 ounce equivalents
  • 1 cup split pea, lentil or bean soup is about 2 ounce equivalents.
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Oils portion sizes


vegetable oilThis group includes fats that are liquid at room temperature like corn oil, canola oil olive oil and all other vegetable oils. 

From this group you should opt to get most of your oils from fish, nuts and vegetable oils. 

Try limiting solid oils like butter, margarine, lard and shortening. 

Foods that would be included in this group are mayonnaise, salad dressings, and margarine. 

Look for items with zero trans fat. 

Daily Recommended Allowance

Generally you get sufficient oils from the foods you eat like fish, nuts, cooking oils, avocados and salad dressings.  

Women

Age Daily Recommendation
19 - 30 6 teaspoons
31 - 50 5 teaspoons
51 + 5 teaspoons

Men

Age Daily Recommendation
19 - 30 7 teaspoons
31 - 50 6 teaspoons
51 + 6 teaspoons

Portion Sizes for Oils

Here are some common portion sizes and teaspoon equivalents for oils.
  • 1/2 medium avocado equals 3 teaspoons
  • 4 large olives is about 1/2 teaspoon
  • 1 ounce peanuts, mixed nuts, cashews, sunflower seeds or almonds equals 3 teaspoons.
  • 1 ounce hazelnuts equals 4 teaspoons
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Learning to manage your portions and making the proper food choices you can begin to eat healthier and help lose weight.  For more on portion sizes, visit the choosemyplate.gov

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Additional Articles
Portion Sizes Gadget
Use this online gadget to get a visual of how big your food portions should be for each meal.

Reading Food Labels
Learning to read food labels can help you better understand the nutritional values and portions for the foods you buy.

Diabetes Food Pyramid
If you are a diabetic, then be sure to check out this food pyramid.




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