The Ultimate Guide to Serving Size

If you’ve ever wondered how much a serving size is when it comes to various foods, then you are in the right place.

To help you sort through the different ins and outs of serving and portions, today I’m sharing with you this ultimate guide to portion sizes.

By wrapping your head around serving sizes and how much food you need every day, you’ll be one step closer to eating much healthier.

I‘ve also provided you below with plenty of examples of what represents one serving of common foods by comparing serving size against different everyday objects to keep in mind as avisual reminder.

So are you excited? Then here we go.

Portion Size Vs. Serving Size

Picking the right foods with the right amounts means consuming portions that are proper serving sizes.

That said, don’t confuse the terms portion and serving. Although these are usually used interchangeably, they do not mean the same thing.

So, what’s the difference?

Portion size is how much food you choose to eat in one sitting, whether in a restaurant, from a package or in your own kitchen. So, it could be a large amount or a small amount.

Examples include a plate of chicken breast or a handful of nuts.

Portion size is 100 percent under your control. Just keep in mind that many foods may come as a single portion but actually contain multiple servings.

On the other hand, a serving is how much food and drinks the experts recommend you consume in one sitting.

Servings are found listed on a food nutrition facts label. These are what the USDA uses in the healthy eating guidelines and daily intake recommendations based on the average amount a person should consume in a single sitting.

Good examples of an average serving include a bowl of cereal, a slice of bread, a medium-sized potato or banana, etc.

Measuring serving size might seem complicated, but don’t worry.

Below you’ll find practical examples of what represents one serving of common foods and drinks.

The Ultimate Guide For Serving Size: Carbohydrate

A typical carbohydrate serving is roughly 15 grams.

Please keep in mind that the grams refer to the amount of carb in the serving, not the tangible weight of the food.

The Exact Breakdown

Carbs are a powerful source of energy and must be included in any runners diet.  In fact, they should make 50 to 65 percent of your total calorie intake.

How Much

Specific needs vary depending on your training intensity, energy needs, gender, age, etc.

For example, if you require 2,400 calories daily, 1200 to 1400 of your calories should come from carbohydrates.

Vegetables

Vegetables are a major source of healthy carbohydrates.

One serving of raw leafy veggies should be roughly the size of a small fist or a baseball. This might be a lot smaller than most people think.

In general, a serving of vegetables equals:

  • Half a cup of raw or cooked vegetables
  • ½ cup of vegetable juice.
  • ½ cup (or 4 ounces) of vegetable juice.
  • One cup of raw, leafy greens.
  • Half a cup (125mL) of fresh, frozen or canned fruit or vegetable.
  • Half a cup of cut-up vegetables
  • One cup (250 mL) of leafy raw vegetables.

Recommended Intake

In general, aim for four to five servings every day. The more, the better.

As long as your veggies are not more oil than they are veggies, more veggies is always better.

Fruits

Another major source of healthy carbohydrates is fruits.

One medium piece of fresh fruit is roughly the size of a small fist or baseball.

In general, one serving of fruits is the equivalent of:

  • One piece of medium-sized fruit.
  • Half a cup cut-up fruit
  • Half a cup of fruit juice.
  • Half a cup (125mL) of canned fruit
  • 1/4 cup of dried fruits.

Recommended Intake

Three to four servings a day

Grains

Grains are the small, hard and edible seeds that grow on grass-like plants called cereals and are harvested for human or animal consumption.

And by far, cereal grains are the world’s single biggest source of food energy.

One serving of grains is equal to:

  • One slice of bread – the size of a CD case
  • 1 ounce of uncooked rice or pasta.
  • 1/2 cup of cooked pasta, rice or cereal—the size of a computer mouse.
  • Half a cup of cooked pasta, rice, or cereal.
  • One ounce of ready-to-eat cereal
  • Half a cup of popped popcorn.

Recommended Intake

Shoot for 5 to 6 servings per day. Just make sure to focus on whole grains that are high in dietary fiber.

Proteins

Proteins are the building blocks for the production and growth of muscle, bone, skin, and hair, performing a host of vital functions in the body.

Common sources of protein, including meat, fish, poultry, eggs, legumes, and nuts, are typically measured in ounces.

How much?

Again, protein requirements vary from one person to the next, depending on activity level, health status, fitness goals, etc.

However, as a runner, shoot for 0.5 to 0.7 g of protein for every pound of body weight per day. This is plenty to keep your body in great shape.

The Exact Breakdown

Typically, 20 to 25 percent of your daily caloric intake should come from protein-rich foods and drinks.

A runner consuming a 2000-calorie diet per day should aim for at least 400 to 500 calories coming from protein a day. This is equal to 100 to 120 grams.

To make the most out of, consume 30 to 35 grams of protein with every meal, depending, of course, on your schedule, eating menu, and personal preferences.

To do that you’d need to consume one of the following:

  • Five eggs whites
  • 100 to 120 grams of meat or fish
  • One serving protein powder
  • 250 grams of firm tofu
  • 200 grams of cottage cheese.

For more on the importance of protein for runners, check my full guide here.

Meat and Fish

A major source of protein is meat and fish.

As a general rule, the go-to serving size for any variety of meat or fish is 3 ounces.

Instead of relying on the scale to figure out portion size, the best visual indicator of this amount is about the size of the palm of your hand or the size of a computer mouse.

Just keep in mind that a 3-ounce of a serving of meat is equal to roughly 21 grams of protein.

In general, one serving is the equivalent of:

  • One ounce of cooked meat, fish or poultry.
  • One egg (or two egg whites)
  • 3 ounces. of cooked poultry or meat.
  • 3 ounces. of cooked fish or seafood.

Recommended Intake

Three to four servings a week.

Dairy

Another major source of protein is dairy. This refers to a group of foods made from the milk products of animals, primarily cows, sheep,  and goats, or produced in the mammary glands.

In general, a cup of fat-free milk or yogurt is the roughly the size of six stacked dice or a baseball’s.

One serving stands for:

  • ½ cup of ice cream
  • One cup of milk
  • One cup of yogurt
  • 1/2 ounces of natural cheese.

Recommended Intake

Aim for two to three servings each day.

As an athlete, you’ll need more calcium from dairy or other sources than the average sedentary individual. So, try to get more.

Nuts & Seeds, Beans, and Legumes

The rest of your protein intake should come from legumes, beans, nuts, and seeds.

In general, one serving equals to :

  • ¼ cup of cooked tofu or beans.
  • One tablespoon of peanut butter.
  • ½ ounce of seeds or nuts.
  • 14 shelled walnut halves
  • 24 shelled almonds
  • 16 cashews
  • 28 peanuts
  • 45 pistachios
  • 80 pumpkin seeds.

Recommended Intake

Five to six serving per week.

Dietary Fats

Dietary fats are the third pillar of a well balanced and healthy diet. The good fats—typically in liquid form and derived from plants or nuts—play a major role in all bodily functions, such as metabolism, cell functioning, etc.

One visual cue to keep in mind when consuming butter is the size of your thumb. That’s roughly the equivalent of two tablespoons.

The exact breakdown

Aim for as much as 15 to 25 percent of your daily calorie intake coming from healthy sources of dietary fats.

As with everything else, these recommendations are not written in stone. So feel free to re-adjust according to your fitness level, personal needs, and exercise intensity.

As long as you’re consuming the right kinds of fats—the monounsaturated fats and omega-3 polyunsaturated fats—you’re good to go.

So, for example, if you consume 2400 calories per day, then less than 500 of these calories should be from dietary fats. That translates to 60 to 65 grams of fat a day.

One serving of healthy fats equals to:

  • 8 olives
  • One tablespoon of olive, sunflower, sesame, canola or peanut oil.
  • One tablespoon of salad dressing
  • One tablespoon of low-fat mayonnaise
  • ¼ of a medium avocado
  • One tablespoon of peanut butter
  • ½ ounce of nuts or seeds
  • Two tablespoons of flaxseeds
  • Three ounces of fatty fish—such as tuna, salmon, or mackerel. Great source of omega-3 fats.

Recommended Intake

Aim for three servings a day.

Balanced Eating Demystified

To eat a balanced diet, opt for healthy sources from these six different groups.

The main food categories include vegetables, lean protein, fruits, whole grains and starches, fats and oils, and dairy products.

Eating healthy and minimally proceeds items from each food group is crucial for ensuring a well-rounded, nutritious, and healthy diet.

Enter The Food Pyramid

The food pyramid illustrated the key food groups along with the optimally recommended servings. This can provide you with all the dietary tools you need to start eating healthier and developing healthier eating habits.

This also can help you ensure that you’re getting the recommended intake of minerals, vitamins, amino acids and other essential nutrients for optimal health.

Your Main Meals – The Ideal Plate

As a rule of thumb, your main meals should be

Vegetables. They should make ½ of your plate. Or the equivalent of two palms of veggies with each meal.

Carbs. 1/4 of your plate should be high quality, complex carbohydrates, such as brown rice, wholegrain pasta, potato, quinoa, etc. Shoot for two to three cupped hands of carb dense foods with most meals.

Proteins. It should make up the remaining ¼ of your plate. High-quality sources include lean meat, poultry, eggs, and legumes. That may translate to two palms of protein dense foods with each meal.

In other words, fill one-fourth of your plate with carbohydrates, one-fourth with lean protein, and the remaining half with vegetables.

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David Dack

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