Portion Size Matters

While what you eat is important, the amount you consume plays a greater role in your quest for good health. Average portion sizes have grown so much over the past 20 years that sometimes when eating out, the plate arrives, and there's enough food for two or even three people on it. Food manufacturers increasingly package foods and drinks in large sizes to sell more. The result of this oversize phenomenon is also changing the way people eat at home because of altered perceptions of what normal portions should be.

  • A portion is the amount of food that you choose to eat for a meal or snack. It can be big or small.

  • A serving is a measured amount of food or drink, such as one slice of bread or one cup (8 oz.) of milk.

Many foods that come as a single portion, contain multiple servings. The Nutrition Facts label on packaged foods tells consumers the number of servings in the container. For example, a 20-ounce soda is usually consumed as one portion. However, the label shows that it has 2.5 servings in it.  A 3-ounce bag of chips, often considered a single portion, contains 3 servings. Some common food portions can equal the amount that is recommended for the whole day.

Oversized meals at restaurants are not only more common than ever, but they may be the number-one reason why we can’t lose weight. Researchers from the University of Cambridge reviewed more than 60 scientific studies and found that by simply eliminating large serving sizes, we would reduce our daily intake by 527 calories. That could result in losing more than 50 pounds in just one year.

Most people eat and drink more than they should when served larger portions. Choosing smaller portions can help you lose weight and keep it off. Planning ahead is key and these rules will help you in controlling your portions.  

  • Use a salad plate: A smaller plate allows for smaller portions. Make it a rule not to stack foods on top of each other.

  • Swap super-size for smart size: Order a regular burger, fries and soft drink and you can enjoy half the calories of a super-sized meal.

  • Save calories with a kid meal: Here is another simple way to save money and improve drive-thru nutrition.

  • Share a menu item: Any menu item can be shared. Split an order to cut calories and improve your health and wallet.

  • Switch beverages: Simply switching to low-fat milk or water can cut calories quickly. If you choose soda, pick the small size plus a large cup of water.

  • Order an appetizer as an entrée: Appetizer portions are often the right serving size and much less expensive than a full meal.

  • Savor an entrée twice as much: Eat half of your dinner in the restaurant and take half home for tomorrow. This cuts calories and gives you another meal.

Portion Reference Guide:

  • Palm of hand or deck of cards = 3 oz. meat
  • Hand = 1 slice bread
  • A fist = 1 cup – pasta, rice, grains, fruits and vegetables
  • Fingertip = 1 teaspoon – Fats (butter)
  • Thumb = 1 tablespoon – dressings, peanut butter

Sometimes we eat the right things but sabotage our efforts by eating too much of it. Understanding the right amount to consume is key to successful health.

You can contact Claudia Martin Ayoade, MBA, MS, RDN, LD Registered Dietitian/Nutritionist at

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