Proper Portions

In the 1950s an average meal of a cheeseburger, French fries and soda pop would be about 600 calories, slightly under one third of the total calories an average person needs in one day.  If you eat that same meal today, you’re likely to consume more than 1,200 calories in one sitting – over half of your daily needs!  Why such a significant calorie difference for the same meal?  The answer: portion distortion.

Compare the difference in serving size (and calories) of some food and drinks 20 years ago versus today

Without a doubt, larger food and drink portions significantly affect our eating habits. While common sense may tell you that you simply eat until you feel “full” regardless of how much or little you are served, in fact research studies show that when people are given more food, they tend to eat more of it, even past the point of feeling full.

Satiety (the sense of feeling “full”) is not only a result of the actual amount of food we eat but is also affected by other visual and psychological factors. For example, sometimes it’s not about how much food is on our plate but how filled the plate looks. Studies have shown that people who ate a meal that fills up a small plate reported feeling more “full” compared to those who ate the exact same meal on a large plate (it looked like less food).

Of course, satiety also depends on the food itself since some foods fill you up more than others.  Just think about how much oatmeal you can eat compared to popcorn.  In general, foods that are high in fiber (like whole grains, fresh vegetables and fruits) increase satiety.  Also, because it takes your body longer to digest and absorb protein and fat compared to refined carbohydrates (white bread, white rice), high-protein and high-fat foods keep you feeling full.

So, what exactly are the proper portions?  How do I know what’s too much or too little?  In order to provide a frame of reference for food portions, standard serving sizes have been developed by the USDA as part of their Dietary Guidelines for Americans.  For example, one carbohydrate serving refers to one slice of bread, ½ cup of cooked rice or ½ cup of cooked pasta.  One fruit serving is one medium-size apple or banana.

Proper portions of some foods are easier to visualize than others.  For example, what exactly does a three-ounce serving of meat look like?  Associating portions with common objects may help:

3 ounces = 1 deck of cards or the palm of your hand

1 cup = 1 tennis ball

1 ounce or 2 tablespoons = 1 golf ball

However, it’s still hard to picture how much spinach is considered one cup.  Browse our portion gallery (from the USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans) and see standard serving sizes for various foods including fruits, vegetables, grains, dairy, meats and nuts & beans.

Fruit Gallery

Banana – 1 large (8” long), Fruit Group: counts as 1 cup fruit

Fruit Cocktail – 1/2 cup, Fruit Group: counts as ½ cup fruit

Gala Apple – 1 small,  Fruit Group: counts as 1 cup fruit

Grapefruit – 1/2 medium (4” diameter), Fruit Group: counts as ½ cup fruit

Grapes – 1 medium bunch (about 50 grapes), Fruit Group: counts as 1 ½ cups fruit

Mango – 1 medium, Fruit Group: counts as 1 cup fruit

Orange – 1 small, Fruit Group: counts as ½ cup fruit

Orange juice – ½ cup, Fruit Group: counts as ½ cup fruit

Peach – ½ large, Fruit Group: counts as ½ cup fruit

Plums – 2 large, Fruit Group: counts as 1 cup fruit

Raisins – 1/4 cup, Fruit Group: counts as ½ cup fruit

Strawberries – ½ cup, Fruit Group: counts as ½ cup fruit

Grain Gallery

Whole Grains

Brown Rice – ½ Cup, Grains Group: counts as 1 ounce equivalent whole grains

Oatmeal – ½ Cup, Grains Group: counts as 1 ounce equivalent whole grains

Popcorn – 3 Cups, Grains Group: counts as 1 ounce equivalent whole grains

Whole Wheat Cereal Flakes – 1 Cup, Grains Group: counts as 1 ounce equivalent whole grains

Whole Wheat Bread – 1 slice, Grains Group: counts as 1 ounce equivalent whole grains

Whole Wheat Crackers – 5 crackers, Grains Group: counts as 1 ounce equivalent whole grains

Refined Grains, Cornbread – 1 piece 2 ½” by 2 ½” (1¼” high), Grains Group: counts as 2 ounce equivalents refined grains

Cornflakes – 1 cup, Grains Group: counts as 1 ounce equivalent refined grains

Crackers, saltine – 7 crackers, Grains Group: counts as 1 ounce equivalent refined grains

Flour tortilla – 1 8” diameter, Grains Group: counts as 2 ounce equivalents refined grains

Kaiser roll – 2 ½ ounces, Grains Group: counts as 2 ½ ounce equivalents refined grains

White rice – 1 cup, Grains Group: counts as 2 ounce equivalents refined grains

Meat Gallery

Beef Strip Steak – 5 ounces cooked weight
Meat Group: counts as 5 ounce equivalents meatHam – 6 thin slices
Meat Group: counts as 2 ounce equivalents meatPork Chop – 4 ounces cooked weight without bone
Meat Group: counts as 4 ounce equivalents meatChicken breast – 1 small breast half, cooked
Meat Group: counts as 3 ounce equivalents meat

Salmon steak – 8 ounces cooked weight
Meat Group: counts as 8 ounce equivalents meat

Shrimp – 7 medium, 2 ounces cooked
Meat Group: counts as 2 ounce equivalents meat

Nuts and Beans Gallery

Almonds – 1 ounce, about 25 almonds
Beans Group: counts as 2 ounce equivalents and 2 teaspoons oilCashews – 1 ounce, about 13 cashews
Beans Group: counts as 2 ounce equivalents and 2 teaspoons oil

Mixed Nuts – 1 ounce
Beans Group: counts as 2 ounce equivalents and 2 teaspoons oil

Walnuts – 1 ounce, about 9 walnuts
Beans Group: counts as 2 ounce equivalents and 2 teaspoons oil

Cooked Black Beans – 1/2 cup
Beans Group: counts as 2 ounce equivalents

Cooked Kidney Beans – 1/2 cup
Beans Group: counts as 2 ounce equivalents

Cooked Pinto Beans – 1/2 cup
Beans Group: counts as 2 ounce equivalents

Vegetable Gallery

Raw Baby Spinach – 1 cup
Vegetable Group: counts as ½ cup dark green vegetablesBroccoli – 1/2 cup
Vegetable Group: counts as ½ cup dark green vegetables

Romaine Lettuce – 1 cup
Vegetable Group: counts as ½ cup dark green vegetables

Baby Carrots – 1 cup
Vegetable Group: counts as 1 cup orange vegetables

Baked Sweet potato – 1 large
Vegetable Group: counts as 1 cup orange vegetables

Cooked Black Beans – 1/2 cup
Vegetable Group: counts as ½ cup dry beans and peas

Cooked Kidney Beans – 1/2 cup
Vegetable Group: counts as ½ cup dry beans and peas

Cooked Pinto Beans – 1/2 cup
Vegetable Group: counts as ½ cup dry beans and peas

Cooked Corn – 1/2 cup
Vegetable Group: counts as ½ cup starchy vegetables

Baked potato – 1 medium
Vegetable Group: counts as 1 cup starchy vegetables

Raw Cauliflower – 1/2 cup
Vegetable Group: counts as ½ cup other vegetables

Cooked Green Beans – 1/2 cup
Vegetable Group: counts as ½ cup other vegetables

Iceberg Lettuce – 1 cup
Vegetable Group: counts as ½ cup other vegetables

Raw Mushrooms – 1/2 cup
Vegetable Group: counts as ½ cup other vegetables

Red Onion – 2 slices
Vegetable Group: counts as ¼ cup other vegetables

Raw Tomato – 1/2 cup
Vegetable Group: counts as ½ cup other vegetables

Tomato juice – 1/2 cup
Vegetable Group: counts as ½ cup other vegetables

Raw Zucchini – 1/2 cup
Vegetable Group: counts as ½ cup other vegetables

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