The Portion Distortion Guide

Selecting the right foods also means choosing portions that are proper serving sizes. The terms "portion" and "serving" are often used interchangeably, but they don't mean the same thing.

A "portion" is the amount of food you choose to eat for meals or snacks (like a plateful of pasta or a handful of raisins). In comparison a "serving" is the amount of food that experts recommend you eat (like 1 cup of milk or 1 ounce of bread). Servings are listed on a food's nutrition facts label too.

When choosing your portion, try to make it as close as possible to these recommended serving sizes.

Grains: Aim for 6-11 servings each day. Choose whole grains whenever possible.
  • Bread: 1 ounce (1 small slice, 1/2 bagel, 1/2 bun), or about the size of an index card
  • Cooked Grains: 1/2 cup cooked oats, rice or pasta, or about the size of a billiard ball
  • Dry cereal: 1/2 cup flakes, puffed rice or shredded wheat, or about the size of a billiard ball
Fruits and Vegetables: Aim for 5-9 total servings each day. Choose fresh fruits and veggies whenever possible.
  • Raw fruit: 1/2 cup raw, canned or frozen fruit, or about the size of billiard ball
  • Dried fruit: 1/4 cup raisins, prunes or apricots, or about the size of an egg
  • Juice: 6 oz 100% fruit or vegetable juice, or about the size of a hockey puck
  • Raw vegetables: 1 cup leafy greens, baby carrots or about the size of a baseball
  • Cooked vegetables: 1/2 cup cooked broccoli, potatoes, or about the size of a billiard ball

Meat and Beans: Aim for 2-3 servings each day. Choose lean meats and plant proteins whenever possible.
  • Meat & Tofu: 2-3 oz cooked beef, poultry, fish or tofu, or about the size of a deck of cards
  • Beans: 1/2 cup cooked beans, split peas or legumes, or about the size of a billiard ball
  • Nuts & Seeds: 2 tbsp nuts, seeds or nut butters, or about the size of a ping pong ball
Dairy: Aim for 2-3 servings of calcium-rich foods each day. Choose low- or non-fat products whenever possible.
  • Cheese: 1 ounce or 1 thin slice of cheese, or about the size of a pair of dice
  • Milk: 1 cup milk, yogurt or non-dairy milk alternative, or about the size of a baseball
Fats & Oils: Eat fats and oils sparingly and in small portions. Choose heart-healthy fats whenever possible.
  • Fat & Oil: 1 tsp butter, margarine or oil, or about the size of one die
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Member Comments

If I ate that much food I would be right back where I was. I am not interested, nor do I have the time, to take exercise classes to compensate for the calorie intake. Controlling my weight can not be all consuming (no pun intended) form me. Report
There is no way I could consume that many grains and lose weight. I listen to my body very carefully and really watch the nutrition tracker. Report
Eating too much is what made me a chubby grandma! Great article...althoug
h I count both calories and carbs and measure those portions! I think you have to carefully choose what diet works for weight loss and then incorporate that into a healthy lifestyle. Report
I fail to see why the article us so biased against animal products. It would appear to be based on outdated data. Report
woow this was quite useful. I eat much to big portions. Thank you. Report
I feel like I'd be eating WAY too many calories (and frankly more food than I could stomach) trying to consume that many servings of grains. My carb count would be through the roof! How are you supposed to do that and not turn into a giant tub of grainy lard?! Report
Good tips with exception. How many can relate to the size of a billiard ball or a a deck of cards? You need to use more relatable analogies. Also, some have entered serving size on the food list for some foods that are not straightforward. There should be a reference. An example would be what is the serving size for a homemade casserole with multiple ingredients. Is the serving 1/2 cup, 1cup, 3oz? It would be helpful to know this. Report
And this is exactly why I weigh and measure everything I eat! Portion distortion! Report
Thank you for the awesome tips on portions and servings! Report
excellent Report
Coach Nicole, Thanks for this helpful article and your exercise videos that have helped me get back into being physically active at 65 years of age. Report
Good basic info - thanks! Report
Great Article Report
Great info, thanks. Report
Thank you for good information. Report


About The Author

Nicole Nichols
Nicole Nichols
A certified personal trainer and fitness instructor with a bachelor's degree in health education, Nicole loves living a healthy and fit lifestyle and helping others do the same. Nicole was formerly SparkPeople's fitness expert and editor-in-chief, known on the site as "Coach Nicole." Make sure to explore more of her articles and blog posts.
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