Julie Whittington, RD

Healthy tips from a Registered Dietitian

How to judge appropriate food and beverage portion sizes

How well do you know how to judge food and beverage portion sizes?  It is no secret that in recent years, restaurant and grocery food portions have escalated to over-indulgent sizes.  Take the burgers at some fast food restaurants for example.  A burger that contains more than half a pound of meat and contains over 1000 calories (and even upwards of 2000 calories for some versions) is, well, absurd – by any dietitian’s standards.


Sometimes it is helpful to have visual cues to help you with identifying proper portions.  Here are a few examples:  (1) one cup is about the size of a baseball, tennis ball or a closed woman’s fist; (2) 1 ounce of cheese is about the size of 4 dice or the size of a thumb; (3) 2 tablespoons, such as with a serving of peanut butter is about the size of a ping pong ball; (4) a ¼ cup portion is equivalent to a golf ball or 4 tablespoons; (5) 3 ounces of meat, fish or chicken is equivalent to a deck of cards, cassette tape, palm of your hand or a checkbook; (6) a ½ cup portion is equivalent to a rounded handful or a small computer mouse; (7) and, one teaspoon is approximately the size of one die/dice or your thumb tip.


Now, of course, when I give visual cues based on hand or finger size, these are approximations, since individuals come in all different sizes.  You might want to measure out some common foods, such as pretzels, nuts and cheese to see if you are visualizing portions correctly.  Pour a ½ cup portion into your hand so you have a visual cue.  Then, the next time you eat a portion of that food item, you have an idea how much fits in your hand.  Nuts and cheese can be two of the most surprising foods to measure.  It can be so easy to munch mindlessly on appetizers set out at a party, for example.  Just keep in mind, these foods are healthful in proper portions.  If you have one ounce of nuts, that will probably be about 150-200 calories – yet, that is only about a ¼ cup portion.  Same goes for cheese.  One ounce of regular cheese usually is around 100 calories, and only the size of 4 dice – that means 4 pieces of that pre-cut cubed cheese could be a proper portion.


While it is not recommended to precisely measure everything you eat all the time, it is a good idea to learn proper portioning and visual cues so that you can be a mindful eater.  And, the sooner you learn it, the better off you will be!


Take the Portion Distortion Quiz online at http://hp2010.nhlbihin.net/portion/ to see how well you know your portions.  For more information, visit www.mypyramid.gov, where you can learn about all the different food groups and appropriate portions for children and adults.  Specific examples are given.


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