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Portion Size Guide: All You Need to Know

portion control vector

Trying to lose weight and get healthy can be a frustrating process. A lack of progress can demotivate and sidetrack you from your weight loss goals. An effective way to stay on track is to log how much food and drink you are consuming on a daily basis. To do this, you need to accurately measure portion size. But how do you go about calculating portion sizes? 

Continue reading to learn the difference between serving sizes and portion sizes and how you can measure portion size. We’ve also got some tips on how to practice portion control, i.e., to eat less food and lose weight. In addition to weight loss, being aware of portion sizes will help you make healthier food choices and improve your overall health, especially if you suffer from conditions such as hypertension or diabetes. 

What does it mean by 1 serving?

One serving or serving size refers to the information on the Nutrition Facts label found on all food products sold in the United States. This information is added to the label to help people choose nutritionally appropriate portion sizes. In other words, a serving size helps you figure out how much food to each at one time. 

Serving size can give you a feel for the number of calories in a particular food. For example, if the serving size of yogurt is one cup and peanut butter is 2 teaspoons, you can sense that there are more calories in peanut butter than yogurt.

It is worth noting, however, that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has mandated that the serving sizes listed on food labels must be close to the actual portion sizes people are eating. The goal of this mandate is to give consumers standardized serving sizes and greater clarity on how many calories they are consuming. 

Essentially, this means you can eat less than the serving size indicated on the label. This way, you can reduce your calorie intake by stopping as soon as you feel satiated, instead of eating the entire serving size.

What is considered a portion size?

A portion size is the actual amount of food you are eating. Figuring out portions of the foods and drinks you consume is an important part of trying to lose weight. Portion control, i.e., reducing the amount you eat and drink can help you control calories and drop weight.

Note that the recommended serving size of particular foods is the amount you are supposed to eat during a snack or meal according to your diet plan. If you eat more than the recommended serving size of a food such as chocolate, you will consume extra calories. If you eat less than the recommended serving size of foods such as fruit and vegetables, you may not get enough nutrients. 

How do you determine portion sizes?

There are various ways for you to measure portion sizes. Figuring out the portions of packaged foods like chocolate, cookies, and crackers is easy because the serving size is listed on the package. But it is harder to measure portion sizes of some of the other foods you eat, such as fruit, vegetables, pasta, meat, and oils. There are several ways to accomplish this:

Weigh your food: 

This is the most accurate way to measure portion size. You can use an old-fashioned spring-loaded scale or get yourself a digital scale that allows you to deduct the weight of the container and measure your food using different units such as grams and ounces. 

A standard set of plastic measuring cups allows you to quickly measure the volume of foods such as cereal, flour, etc. Simply scoop up the food into the cup and level off with the flat side of a knife to get an accurate measurement. Measuring cups also come with spoons in standard sizes to calculate smaller quantities. A measuring jug is more accurate and less messy for liquids.

Estimate portion size: 

You can use your hands or everyday objects to measure appropriate portion sizes. While this is not the most accurate method of measuring a portion size, it is the quickest. For example, 1 cup of cereal is approximately a deck of cards or one fist; 1/2 a cup of ice cream is roughly one tennis ball; 1 teaspoon of fat is the tip of a finger; a 3-oz fish fillet is a checkbook; 1 cup of salad greens is a baseball; 1/2 a cup of cooked rice, pasta, or chips is one tennis ball or a rounded handful; 2 tablespoons of peanut butter is one ping pong ball.

You can start out by using measuring cups for a few days. After you’ve had some practice, you may find it easier to eyeball portion sizes. The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute has developed a free downloadable serving size card that is helpful in measuring one serving size of common food groups such as grains, fruit, vegetables, dairy, cheese, and meat plus alternatives.

How do you practice portion control for weight loss?

Most people eat everything on their plate, so to control calorie intake, it is important to control portion size, i.e., what you put on your plate. Practicing portion control is an effective way to reduce the number of calories you consume. Here are some tips that may be helpful in keeping a tab on portion sizes.

Measure high-calorie foods: 

Even if you do not measure the serving sizes of everything you eat, it is important to do it at least for high-calorie foods such as chocolate, ice cream, dried fruit, nuts, sugar, fats, oils. This is because any error in the portion size of these foods can translate to a big difference in calories.

Use smaller dinnerware: 

A smaller plate or bowl can unconsciously make you eat less. Studies have shown, for instance, that people tend to serve themselves more ice cream when they use larger serving spoons or larger bowls.

Divide your plate to guide portion size: 

If weighing or measuring your food doesn’t appeal to you, follow this simple guide--a full plate of food should include half a plate of salad or vegetables; a quarter plate of protein such as meat, poultry, fish, eggs, beans, or legumes; a quarter plate of whole grains and starchy vegetables; and half a tablespoon of oil, butter, cheese, etc.

Ask for half portion sizes when eating out: 

Servings in restaurants can be 2.5 to 8 times higher than a standard serving size. If you are trying to lose weight, ask for children’s dishes or half portions when eating out. Or, only eat half and plan to take the leftovers home.

Drink water before meals: 

Besides keeping you well hydrated, a glass of water before meals will help fill you up and make you feel less hungry. 


1. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/patientinstructions/000337.htm