Serving and Portion Sizes: How Much Should I Eat?
The Dietary Guidelines describe three USDA Food Patterns, each of which includes slight variations in amounts recommended from different food groups. For example, people 50 or older following the Healthy U.S.-Style Eating Pattern choose foods every day from the following:
- Vegetables — 2 to 3 cups
- Fruits — 1½ to 2 cups
- Grains — 5 to 8 ounces
- Dairy — 3 cups (fat-free or low-fat)
- Protein foods — 5 to 6½ ounces
- Oils — 5 to 7 teaspoons
Does this mean you have to measure or weigh everything you eat? Not really. Some people find it helps to measure things carefully at first, but once you get used to your new eating plan, strict measuring probably won’t be necessary. But, what exactly is a serving? And is that different from a portion?
A “serving size” is a standard amount of a food, such as a cup or an ounce. Serving sizes can help you when choosing foods and when comparing like items while shopping, but they are not recommendations for how much of a certain food to eat.
The term “portion” means how much of a food you are served or how much you eat. A portion size can vary from meal to meal. For example, at home you may serve yourself two small pancakes in one portion, but at a restaurant, you may get a large stack of pancakes as one portion. A portion size may also be bigger than a serving size. For example, the serving size on the Nutrition Facts label for your favorite cereal may be 1 cup, but you may pour yourself 1½ cups in a bowl.
Portion size can be a problem when eating out. To keep your portion sizes under control, try ordering one or two small appetizers instead of a large entrée. Or, you could share an entrée with a friend, or eat just half and ask for a take-out container for the rest. Put the leftovers in the fridge as soon as possible. Then enjoy them the next day for lunch or dinner.
For More Information About Serving and Portion Sizes
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This content is provided by the National Institute on Aging (NIA), part of the National Institutes of Health. NIA scientists and other experts review this content to ensure that it is accurate, authoritative, and up to date.
Content reviewed: April 29, 2019