How to Learn About Portion Size
Learning about portion size can be as beneficial for those of a healthy weight as it can be for those attempting to diet or manage their food intake for a chronic illness. Understanding standard portion sizes and managing your portions at each meal can help with calorie estimation, food group avoidance or limitations, and losing weight. Simple tricks for learning and estimating portion sizes can come in handy at home and on the go, making the determination of how much you should serve or eat a simple task. Try following the steps below to learn about portion size and how to apply it effectively, whatever your dietary needs and goals.
Determine your dietary goals and recommended daily caloric intake.Your portion needs will depend on age, sex, activity level, and weight goals. Online interactive dietary planners and calorie calculators can help more closely estimate your necessary daily calorie intake and precise portion sizes.
- For instance, women whose goal is weight loss can typically succeed with about 1600 calories per day. If weight loss is your goal, your portions will be moderate and will consist mainly of foods that are low calorie and high in nutrients.
- For women trying to maintain weight, calorie needs may reach up to 2000 per day. Those who regularly exercise may need additional calories to avoid losing weight. Portion sizes can allow for some higher calorie foods, although it is often healthier to simply consume slightly larger portions of low calorie, nutrient-dense foods.
- Men attempting to lose weight should typically aim for 2200 calories a day or a bit more, depending on activity level. Men trying to maintain weight should opt for approximately 2500 calories per day, and very active men may need 3000 calories per day.
- Metabolism typically slows down with age. If you are older and typically inactive, slightly smaller than recommended portion sizes may still provide sufficient calories and nutrients for a healthy diet, particularly in combination with a multi-vitamin. Consult a dietitian if you have difficulty losing or maintaining weight for longer than a few months to receive assistance in creating an individualized calorie and portion size dietary plan.
Compare sample portion sizes to common items for estimating purposes.Memorize the appropriate serving sizes for each type of food.
- In general, the recommended serving size for meat, poultry, or fish is about the size of the palm of your hand or a deck of cards.
- A single portion of grain products like rice or pasta would be comparable to the size of your fist. One cup (or an amount like that of your fist) is also the standard serving size for a portion of fruit or vegetables. In terms of everyday objects, this portion size can be compared to the size of a baseball.
- The standard portion size for nut butters or other healthy fats are comparable to the size of a golf ball or your thumb. Pancakes should be the size of a CD, a portion of nuts or dried fruit would amount to a small handful, and raw leafy greens or popcorn would be two handfuls.
- Drinks such as low-fat milk or milk alternatives and 100% fruit juice are also 1 cup per portion size, comparable to the size of a fist. Because sugary drinks like soda, energy drinks, sports drinks, and flavored coffees are typically of little nutritional value, any portion of these drinks should be limited.
- Dozens of charts and tutorials offering simple tips for estimating appropriate portion sizes can be found for free on government, medical, nutrition, and even health-oriented magazine websites. Printing a chart or two and keeping it on the refrigerator for a few weeks can help reinforce the standard portion sizes for different types of food and gradually teach you about portion size.
Apply the tips on individual food portion sizes to determine appropriate portion sizes for the components of each meal.
- First, categorize each food by its food group. Consulting a sample chart or using the tips found above, plan the serving size for each food in the meal. This may help in the planning stage of preparing food as well, since understanding appropriate portion sizes can help you figure out exactly how much food to buy and use in a recipe.
- A meal should be built based on how many servings you need of each food group per day, which varies by age, sex, height, weight, and physical activity level. The United States Department of Agriculture can create customized daily and weekly serving amounts on their Daily Food Plan: Choose My Plate website found in the Sources section below.
- Depending on calorie needs and your goals for losing, maintaining, or gaining weight, measure out portion size at each meal by the above sample portion size comparisons. Using standard portion sizes, you can help balance the meal and keep serving size in check.
Use dinner plate divisions to portion out servings for meals at home.Using smaller plates, utensils, and cups can make it easier to measure portion sizes appropriately.
- A 9" dinner plate divided into 4 parts makes portion sizing easy and accurate; 1 quarter of the plate should typically be lean protein, 1 quarter should consist of grain products, and the remaining half should be vegetables (and fruit if you like). Those with higher calorie needs may need additional portions; opt for extra servings of vegetables or grains instead of proteins, fats, or dairy.
- If one group takes more than its share of the plate, eat only what would classify as the appropriate portion of the plate. For instance, if a steak takes up half of the plate, eat only as much steak as fits in a quarter of the plate, and finish filling up on vegetables and whole grains. Even if your portion sizes are slightly off, filling the plate with healthy foods and avoiding foods high in fat, sodium, or sugar can help you keep calories and serving sizes in check.
- Keep in mind that if you have large plates, the suggested portion size estimators will be essential to portion control. Monitoring portion size requires understanding the quantity to put on the plate in each quarter, not just what proportion of the plate to fill with which food group.
- Apply sample portion tips to take-out and restaurant foods as well. Request regular or lunch-size portions in place of large or super-size portions (including drinks). If a restaurant does not offer portion size options, request that they put half of the meal in a take-home container before even serving it, so that you do not go overboard on portion sizes.
Know how to identify foods that throw off calorie counts and portion sizes.Foods with high fat, salt, and sugar content may be best in smaller portions than provided in packages or restaurants.
- For instance, a burger smothered in cheese sauce, onion rings, and a buttered bun may be best in a half-portion instead of the full burger. Similarly, salads from vendors and restaurants often contain multiple portions of protein, fat, vegetables, and dairy, so restrict the quantity of proteins and fats if you will have other protein and fat portions throughout the day.
- Restaurant portions and plates are typically over-sized. If you decide to try a dessert, limit yourself to just a few bites to keep from over-indulging on large portions of sweets.
- Worrying too much about portion sizes or repeatedly reducing your food portions may go beyond mindful weight control to unhealthy calorie restrictions or a possible eating disorder. If you or someone you know seems obsessive in monitoring or reducing portion sizes, seek the advice of a health care professional, nutritionist or dietitian, or food counselor.
Video: What is a food portion and how to control portion sizes
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