A healthy balanced diet isn’t just about what you eat, it’s about portion size too – and it can be surprisingly easy to consume too much.
“A healthy diet isn’t just about what we eat, but also how much we’re putting on our plates,” says Sara Stanner, science director at the British Nutrition Foundation. “Most of us will eat more when given bigger portions, so having portion sizes appropriate for our need is important. The aim of the portion size measures in our guide is to give people a quick way to estimate sensible portions, without having to get out the weighing scales.”
However, there are always exceptions to the rule – and portion sizes aren’t always a one-size-fits-all guide. “The portion sizes we give are a starting point – we’re all individuals with different needs,” Ms Stanner adds. “For some foods, you can simply use your hands to measure the portions – it’s an easy way to ensure that larger people get bigger portions, and smaller people get less.”
Here’s a look at what the portion size measures include.
Fruit and vegetables
A standard serve of vegetables is about 75g (100-350kJ) or:
- 1/2 cup cooked green or orange vegetables (for example, broccoli, spinach, carrots or pumpkin)
- 1/2 cup cooked dried or canned beans, peas or lentils (preferably with no added salt)
- 1 cup green leafy or raw salad vegetables
- 1/2 cup sweet corn
- 1/2 medium potato or other starchy vegetables (sweet potato, taro or cassava)
- 1 medium tomato.
A standard serve of fruit is about 150g (350kJ) or:
- 1 medium apple, banana, orange or pear
- 2 small apricots, kiwi fruit or plums
- 1 cup diced or canned fruit (no added sugar).
“For fruit and vegetables, the main message is to eat more,” stresses Ms Stanner. “Usually, you can eat big portions of these for relatively few calories, so filling your plate with plenty of vegetables or having fruit-based puddings is a great way to have satisfying portion sizes for fewer calories.” She recommends including a variety of different fruit and vegetables, and points out that frozen and canned vegies are still nutritious choices.
Cereals and grains
A standard serve of grains and cereal is about 500kJ or:
- 1 slice (40g) bread
- 1/2 medium (40g) roll or flat bread
- 1/2 cup (120g) cooked porridge
- 2/3 cup (30g) wheat cereal flakes
- 1/4 cup (30g) muesli
- 3 (35g) crispbreads
- 1 (60g) crumpet
- 1 small (35g) English muffin or scone.
It’s best to choose wholegrain cereals with a lower sugar content, and add fresh or dried fruit to help with your five a day, Ms Stanner suggests.
Dried rice or pasta
It can be difficult to cook the right amount of pasta and rice, as they expand when cooking. “Allowing about two handfuls per person is a good place to start, but you can adapt this depending on who you are cooking for,” advises Ms Stanner. For spaghetti, she suggests using your finger and thumb to make a hole the size of a $1 coin and allowing a portion this size per person.
A portion of grilled chicken breast about the size of your hand is approximately 120g and about 750KJ – although obviously, this depends on the size of your hand, says Ms Stanner. If you’re using chicken in a stir-fry or curry for example, you may find you need less as you’ll be including other ingredients.
For a lean grilled rump steak, this portion is about 130g and roughly 1300kJ, says Ms Stanner. “You don’t have to cut out red meat to have a healthy diet – it’s a source of important minerals such as iron and zinc,” she says. “But it’s a good idea to shift towards having more plant-based sources of protein.”
Two handfuls of dried lentils is about 50g, which equates to around 120g cooked weight. With canned lentils or other pulses, this is equivalent to half a standard can. “We’re recommended to include more beans and lentils in the diet, as they’re naturally low in fat and provide protein and fibre,” says Ms Stanner. “Choosing more plant-based sources of protein is also one way to make our diets more sustainable for the planet.”
Nuts and seeds
Nuts and seeds are nutrient rich but also high in calories, so it’s a good idea to be aware of your portion sizes if you’re concerned about your weight. Ms Stanner says the amount that fits in your palm is about 20g and provides around 550kJ.
A standard serve of dairy is between 500-600kJ or:
- 1 cup (250ml) fresh, UHT long life, reconstituted powdered milk or buttermilk
- 1/2 cup (120ml) evaporated milk
- 2 slices (40g) or 4 x 3 x 2cm cube (40g) of hard cheese, such as cheddar
- 1/2 cup (120g) ricotta cheese
- 3/4 cup (200g) yoghurt
- 1 cup (250ml) soy, rice or other cereal drink with at least 100mg of added calcium per 100ml.
Ms Stanner says: “You may find you don’t always want to stick to the portion sizes suggested – for example, if you’re a cheese lover and occasionally want to have more than two slices. But be aware that, depending on your needs, regularly eating large portions can make it more difficult to avoid weight gain.”
The healthy dinner plate
These four steps will help you serve up a healthy food plate.
First, choose a medium-sized plate or bowl, and avoid large ones. Now fill half of your dinner plate with a variety of tasty, colourful cooked vegetables or salad.
Next add lean protein foods such as meat, fish, chicken or legumes (chickpeas, lentils, kidney beans etc) to take up a quarter of the plate. Finally, complete the meal by adding in grain foods such as rice, pasta or noodles to take up the remaining quarter of the plate.
Do you take notice of serving and portion sizes? Are you on a weight loss journey? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.
– With PA
If you enjoy our content, don’t keep it to yourself. Share our free eNews with your friends and encourage them to sign up.