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Portion Sizes

Today, more Americans are overweight than ever before. Our food supply has changed dramatically since the 1950s and '60s. Now, we have super-sized stores packed with aisles of food that contain little or no nutritional value. Restaurants serve portions that are big enough to cover several meals. Cookbook recipe portions are larger than in the past. It is not surprising that very few people can recognize a healthy portion size anymore.

It's hard to stay away from eating more than you need to when we live in a world with "super-sizing," buffet-style restaurants and add-ons at every meal. But with the right knowledge, you can easily pass on those large portions that may significantly affect your health. Using everyday objects that often have around your home can help you make the right decisions when it comes to determining how much you really should be consuming.

There are some portions that you can increase. It is recommended that you eat five to nine servings of vegetables and fruits each day. What does this mean? What exactly is a serving? Most of us think a serving is large because when we go out to eat or buy a single serving food, the portion is frequently big.

A baseball, your fist or even your thumbnail can stand in for measurements of just how much you should eat. Look below to find a list of handy tools for measuring your food intake.

  • Woman's fist or baseball = a serving of vegetables or fruit.
  • A rounded handful = about 1/2 cup cooked or raw veggies or cut fruit, a piece of fruit or cup of cooked rice or pasta. This is also a good measure for a snack serving, such as chips or pretzels.
  • Deck of cards = a serving of meat, fish or poultry.
  • Golf ball or large egg = 1/4 cup of dried fruit or nuts.
  • Tennis ball = about 1/2 cup of ice cream.
  • Computer mouse = 1 small baked potato.
  • Compact disc = 1 serving of a pancake or small waffle.
  • Thumb tip = about 1 teaspoon of peanut butter, butter or margarine.
  • Six dice = 1 serving of cheese.
  • Check book = 1 serving of fish (approximately 3 oz.).

Compare this sample menu outlining suggested portion sizes to your last day's meals to find out more about the volume of food you may be consuming.

Sample Menu with recommended portion sizes

Breakfast


  • 4 oz. of 100% juice or a piece of fruit
  • 1 slice of whole grain toast with a trans-fat-free spread
  • 1 - 2 oz. of protein, such as an egg, piece of reduced-fat cheese, peanut butter
  • 1 cup of skim milk

Lunch


  • 2 oz. of lean protein
  • 2 slices of whole wheat bread
  • cup vegetables ex: lettuce and tomato
  • 1 piece of fruit or a cup of cut-up fruit
  • 1 cup of skim milk

Dinner


  • 3 oz. lean protein
  • 2 vegetables (1/2 cup each)
  • - 1 cup whole grain such as brown rice
  • 1 piece of fruit
  • 1 cup of skim milk

As you can see, the amount of protein (meat, chicken, and fish) is very small. If you are used to eating large amounts of protein foods, begin to cut down on your portion sizes. You will see an improvement in your health.

A serving of vegetables and fruits is one-half cup. The U.S. Dietary Guidelines recommend eating five servings of vegetables every day and four servings of fruit every day, for a total of nine servings.

The following are examples of servings of vegetables and fruits.

A Serving of Vegetables


  • 1/2 cup cooked vegetables
  • 6 baby carrots
  • 1 small sweet potato
  • 1 medium tomato
  • 1 cup leafy greens
  • 4 oz. vegetable juice

A Serving of Fruit


  • 1/2 cup sliced fruit
  • 12 grapes
  • 4 large strawberries
  • 1 medium whole fruit
  • 1/4 cup dried fruit
  • 4 oz. 100% juice

Vegetables are high in fiber, potassium and vitamins A, C and E. Fruits provide fiber and potassium, and many are high in vitamins C and folic acid. Both have additional nutrient value due to their high content of phytochemicals (a nutrient found in plants that has an antioxidant function and may strengthen your immune system). This diet helps to prevent heart disease and reduce cancer risk.

Visit mypyramid.gov to find out the government-recommended serving sizes of each food group. The new and improved guide will help you monitor your daily intake and keep you on the right track.

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