Food Portion Sizes: What You Need To Know For Weight Loss Success

For grains, most men need 7-8 ounce equivalents and most women need 6 ounce equivalents (Cake Wrapper).

Losing weight is not easy. You may want to lose a few pounds but don’t know where to start. Or, perhaps you are in the process of making lifestyle changes and want to know how to take your progress to the next level. Regardless of your situation, I highly recommend portion control! Proper serving sizes is a productive first step for moderate weight loss and a great way to achieve a balanced diet.

This article will discuss easy-to-use portion sizes using a hand guide and familiar objects.

In the video below, Amanda Haney discusses how to lose weight by approximating healthy food portion sizes.

Continue reading for more information. 

The good news is you do not have to carry around measuring cups or a food scale to know the correct serving size. Instead, you can use your hands or familiar objects to estimate your portions!

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Serving size vs portion size

I commonly hear, “Amanda, what is the difference between portion size and serving size?” Both phrases are used in nutrition, so it’s important to know the difference!

Serving size

A serving size is a standard unit of food measurement used to express how much food is recommended to eat per serving. Serving sizes are listed on all nutrition labels, and vary based on age, gender, activity level, or specific medical conditions.

Portion size

A portion is how much you serve yourself, which may be more or less than the recommended serving size. A food item may contain multiple servings, so it is important to read the food label.  You also may choose to consume multiple servings in one portion.

For example, let’s say a suggested serving size of yogurt is a 1/2 cup, but you put 1 cup of yogurt in a bowl as a snack. Your portion size is 1 cup, which is more than the suggested serving size of 1/2 cup.

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How to achieve weight loss success by using your hands or common objects to help with portion size

Fruits

For fruits, most men and women should consume 2 servings per day. A serving is considered:

  • One cup of fresh fruit
  • One medium piece of whole fruit
  • 1/2 cup of dried fruit

For example, 1 cup is about the size of your fist and a ½ cup is what would fit in the palm of your hand. Also, one medium piece of whole fruit, like an apple or an orange, is the size of a baseball.

1 cup of fruit is about the size of your fist. A ½ cup of fruit is what would fit in the palm of your hand.

One medium piece of whole fruit, like an apple or an orange, is the size of a baseball.  

Vegetables

For vegetables, most men need 3 servings and most women need 2.5 servings per day. A serving is considered:

  • 1 cup raw vegetables
  • 1/2 cup cooked vegetables
  • 2 cups leafy greens like spinach or lettuce

For example, 2 cups would fit in 2 cupped handfuls or 2 clinched fists. Also, a serving of a whole vegetable, like a tomato or potato, is the size of a tennis ball.

2 cups of vegetables is what would fit in 2 fists. 2 cups of vegetables is what would fit in 2 handfuls.

A serving of a whole vegetable, like a tomato or potato, is the size of a tennis ball.

Grains

For grains, most men need 6-8 ounce equivalents and most women need 3-6-ounce equivalents. An ounce equivalent is:

  • 1 slice of bread
  • 1/2 cup oatmeal, cooked
  • 1/2 cup of cooked rice, or pasta

For example, a slice of bread is about the size of your flat hand or the size of a CD case. Also, a ½ cup of cooked grains is what would fit in a cupcake wrapper.

A slice of bread is about the size of a CD case A slice of bread is about the size of your flat hand.

A ½ cup of cooked grains is what would fit in a cupcake wrapper

Proteins

For proteins, most men need 6-6 ½ ounce equivalents and most women need 5-5 ½ ounce equivalents. An ounce equivalent is:

  • 1 egg
  • ½ cup cooked beans or lentils
  • ¼ cup of nuts or seeds
  • 1 ounce of meat, poultry, or fish

For example, 1/4 cup of nuts or seeds are the size of a golf ball. One tablespoon of peanut butter is about the size of your thumb, and 3 ounces of meat, fish, or poultry is about the size of your palm or a deck of cards.

A 1/4 cup of nuts or seeds is the size of a golf ball.  1 tablespoon of peanut butter is about the size of your thumb.

3 ounces of meat, fish, or poultry is about the size of your palm.3 ounces of meat, fish, or poultry is about the size of a deck of cards.

Dairy

For dairy products, most men and women need 3 servings per day. A serving is considered:

  • 1 cup of milk
  • 1 cup yogurt
  • 1 ½ ounces of cheese

For example, 1 ½ ounces of cheese is the size of 4 dice or about the size of your pointer finger.

1 ½ ounces of cheese is the size of 4 dice. 1 ½ ounces of cheese is the size of your pointer finger.

Now you are ready for your next meal or snack to ensure you are getting the proper serving size! If you get more than 30 minutes of physical activity per day, or have specific medical conditions, meet with your registered dietitian for a more specific meal plan that fits your lifestyle.

RELATED: Is the Ketogenic Diet Your Key To Weight Loss Success?


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Amanda Haney, MS, RD, CNSC
Hi, my name is Amanda Haney. I am a registered dietitian, board-certified nutrition support clinician, Cal State Long Beach alumnae, and former pediatric clinical dietitian. Currently, I am working as a project manager at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. As a clinical dietitian or in my current role, my passion is working in a diverse setting with a variety of teams in order to improve patient outcomes and achieve better health for the families in my community. I became a dietitian because I love food and I love medicine. There is so much misinformation about nutrition in the media, so I enjoy creating educational content that makes nutrition simple and to make your health goals achievable. In my free time, I love soaking up the beauty at the beach, riding my bike, staying active, cooking, and, most of all, spending time with my family and friends!

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