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Determining Proper Portion Size

Proper portion size means proper balance of macronutrients- protein, carbohydrates and fats, and control of caloric intake. A portion – as opposed to a serving size, which is stated on a Nutrition Facts Panel or in the Food Guide – is the amount of food you actually eat in one sitting. Determining portion sizes helps to ensure that you are getting the nutrition you need to thrive.

Most people are used to eating more than an allotted serving size of foods like bread, pasta, rice and meat. Fats and oils are also often eaten in quantities that exceed a serving just because few people bother to measure.

If you want to trim down, minding your portion sizes is a simple way to cut calories, fat and carbohydrate intake. Here are the waistline-friendly portion sizes and the visual references that will help you estimate them correctly when eating in or at restaurants:


Food Category

Proper Portion Size

Visual Reference

Grains rice, pasta, etc. bread

crackers cold cereal

1/2 cup cooked

1 slice
3/4 to 1 cup

Half a baseball
a small closed fist


1/2 tablespoon

The tip of your thumb

Protein Men, Women

5 ounces, 3 ounces

Length and thickness of palm

A deck of cards


Unlimited! (unless they are starchy, in which case, treat as grain)



Also, when you’re selecting packaged or prepared foods, read the nutrition label to determine what the serving size is in relation to the fat, sodium, and calories it’s describing. Nutrition labels can be very deceiving as they inaccurately state facts but often misguide consumers on the portion of food the facts are describing. Be especially careful to read the amount of sugar per serving size.  Sugar is described in grams on the Nutrition Facts label which always misleads people into thinking that the quantity is far less than it actually is.  For a more accurate understanding of the amount of added sugar, remember that 4=1.  That is that 4 grams of sugar actually equals 1 teaspoon of sugar.  So, a serving size with 12 grams of sugar in it actually has 3 teaspoons of added sugar in it.  

When you choose whole foods from fresh vegetables, fruit and gluten free grains and pastured meat, portions sizes become less important as these foods are very low in calories and offer an abundant supply of nutrients.


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