Question:

Please help me better understand portion control. How much is too much versus too little? Is there a chart to help explain the differences between men and women? Does age and weight matter? Are there ways to make portion controlling easier?

Answer:

Controlling portions is a way to manage volume of food served and thus consumed. There is no specific way that is the best, just as there is no perfect serving for all people of any one particular food. A standard portion is a means to compare the nutritional content of different foods, e.g. “a half-cup of ice cream versus a half-cup of popcorn…”

The approach I recommend is a combination of a) the American Institute for Cancer Research’s “New American Plate” which has a greater proportion of plant foods than a typical diet and b) serving sizes adjusted for energy needs as suggested by MyPlatePlan. The key is to know your total caloric requirement first! This takes into account gender, age and weight.

Here are some common portion sizes provided in terms of measure with a corresponding way to “eyeball” the relative portion size in order to help you identify what portions look like. You can also practice by using your scale to weight various foods and then attribute a way to gauge that portion size by using objects such as your hands and fingers. See the examples below.

Bread, Cereal, Rice and Pasta (commonly 1-3 per meal)

  • 4” pancake or waffle = serving size 1   pancake = width just covers palm of adult hand
  • Bread = serving size 1 slice (1 oz.) = standard sandwich slice of bread
  • Pasta, rice, cooked cereal = serving size ½ Cup = size of a custard cup or ½ baseball

Vegetables (goal: 2-3 per meal)

  • Chopped vegetables (raw non-leafy) = serving size ½ Cup = size of a custard cup or ½ baseball
  • Raw leafy vegetables = serving size 1 Cup = 1 baseball or fist of an average adult

Meat and Protein (commonly 1-3 per meal)

  • Nuts = serving size 1/3 Cup = level palmful for average adult
  • Lean meat, poultry, seafood = serving size 1 oz. = size of adult thumb
  • Peanut butter = serving size 2 Tablespoons = size of a ping-pong ball
  • Beans, cooked = serving size ¾ Cup = size of a tennis ball

Fats and Oils (limit to 1 per meal)

  • Butter, margarine or oil = serving size 1 teaspoon = 1 pat or size of a half-dollar
  • Cream cheese = serving size 1 oz. = size of two dominoes
  • Mayonnaise or dressing = serving size 1 Tablespoon = top portion of adult thumb
  • Sour cream or reduced = serving size 2 Tablespoons = size of a ping-pong ball
  • calorie salad dressing

Fruit (commonly 2-3 per day)

  • Dried fruit = ¼ Cup = 1 golf ball
  • Canned, chopped or cooked = serving size ½ Cup = size of a custard cup or ½ baseball
  • Fresh fruit = serving size 1 medium or ½ large = 1 tennis ball or ½ softball
  • Berries or grapes = serving size 1 Cup = 1 baseball or fist of an average adult

Milk, Cheese and Dairy products (commonly 1-3 per day)

  • Natural hard cheese = serving size 1½ oz. = 9-volt battery or 1-inch cube
  • Cottage cheese = serving size ½ Cup = size of a custard cup or ½ baseball

– Debbie J., MS, RD

This article should not replace any exercise program or restrictions, any dietary supplements or restrictions, or any other medical recommendations from your primary care physician. Before starting any exercise program or diet, make sure it is approved by your doctor.

Some questions have been edited for length and/or clarity.

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