Serving vs. Portion Size

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Dark chocolate coconut ice cream with banana chips, gluten-free mini cookies, and dark chocolate pieces. Truly decadent.

Do you know how much you’re really eating? It can be difficult to tell if our portion sizes are right for our bodies’ nutritional needs.

Portion sizes have grown quite drastically in recent decades and, with it, people’s waistlines and confusion about how much they are eating versus what they should. Let’s get back to the basics. Even with healthy food, eating too much can add inches to our waistlines and counteract progress to our goals.

What is a serving size and how do I find it?

The serving size is the amount of food listed on a product’s nutrition facts label, along with the nutritional values (calories, protein, fiber, sugar, carbohydrates, etc) associated with that amount of food. So let’s say you are drinking a 20oz soda and the serving size is 8oz; there are 2.5 servings in the bottle. If you drink that whole bottle, you’ll need to multiply 2.5 with all of the calories, sugar, carbohydrates and more listed in the nutrition facts label. It’s sobering.

For foods without a nutrition facts label, how will you know what a serving size is? Luckily WebMD has a handy-dandy handout with some common household items as a reference point for servings of various fruits, vegetables, grains, and more.

Okay, but how many servings of each food should I eat?

Here’s a guide from the American Heart Association with suggested serving sizes from each food group to get started. Remember, your needs and chosen food groups may be different from what is listed. It’s a guide; reach out to your nutrition professional to set up an individualized plan (especially if there are certain food groups you’re avoiding due to food allergies or sensitivities or dietary preferences, such as being gluten-free or vegetarian/vegan).

Whaaaa? It’s says here my ice cream servings is 1/2 cup. That’s totally too small!

First, as fellow ice cream lovers, we agree with you. This part of your exploration may shock you. Check out serving sizes for cheese, nuts, and oils for further surprises.

What’s the difference between serving and portion sizes then?

A portion size is the amount of food we choose to eat at one time and this means we can control our portion sizes. We can choose to eat less than a serving of food or multiples of it.

So as discussed before, the serving size of ice cream is 1/2 cup; however, the portion size can vary…it is the amount of food you choose to eat in one sitting. So, for ice cream, you/me/we may choose to eat closer to 1 cup of this decadent dessert. In this case we’ve all screamed for more ice cream and promptly devoured 1 portion but 2 servings total.

What I do now?

How far do you want to take this? It can be helpful to use measuring cups to actually see what 1/2 cup of ice cream or 2 Tbsp of nuts looks like. Counting out a serving size of pretzels or chips can be eye-opening as well.

You can also stick with a guideline of 1/2 your plate being vegetables, 1/4 of it being protein, and 1/4 of it being starch (try for whole grains or healthier starchy vegetable such as sweet potato versus macaroni and cheese or pasta).

Consider tracking your serving sizes and portion sizes for a few days; you can write the food you eat and the amount down in a food journal or use an app such as MyFitnessPal. Increased awareness may jump-start a few small changes in how much you eat and can help with weight loss.

 

 

 

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