If you've ever asked for a doggie bag in a restaurant, you know about portion distortion. Food portions have doubled or tripled in the last 20 years, contributing to overeating, weight gain and obesity. Ballooning portions are a challenge for healthy eaters, but you don't have to lug around measuring cups just to stay on track. Many serving sizes can be estimated just by comparing them to common items.
The protein group includes meat, fish, soy, nuts, beans and seeds. Protein builds your body's tissues, and you need 5-ounce equivalents from this group per day. A 3-ounce equivalent of meat, chicken or fish is the size of a deck of cards. Plan one meal for your meat serving and work in two additional ounces of protein during the day. A 2-ounce equivalent of peanut butter is 2 tablespoons, or the size of a ping pong ball. One cup of bean soup equals 2 ounces of protein. Restaurants usually serve more protein than you need. That 16-ounce steak could be a special indulgence, but share it with a friend, or ask for a to-go container and enjoy it later for several meals.
Fruits and Vegetables
Fruits and vegetables are natural superfoods, providing vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fiber. Women should eat 1 1/2 cups of fruit and 2 1/2 cups of vegetables each day. One cup of most fruits and vegetables equals the size of a tennis ball. Raw, leafy greens are an exception. One cup of raw spinach, lettuce or bok choy counts as 1/2 cup of your daily vegetable needs. Dried fruits have a smaller serving size due to their lack of water. One-half cup of dried fruit counts as 1 cup of fruit. To meet your daily needs, strive to fill half of your plate with fruits and vegetables at each meal.
Grains provide carbohydrates, the main energy source for the body. Whole grains are rich in fiber, an indigestible material that promotes good digestive health. Women need 6-ounce equivalents of grains each day, and half of your servings should come from whole-grain foods. One ounce of grains equals 1 mini-bagel, 1 slice of bread, 1 cup of cereal or 1/2 of an English muffin. One ounce of rice, pasta or other cooked grains equals 1/2 cup, or an amount equal to a filled cupcake wrapper.
The dairy group contains calcium and phosphorus, two important minerals for bone health. For strong bones, eat 3 cups of dairy each day. Milk and yogurt can be measured by the cup. A 1-cup equivalent of hard cheese is equal to 1 1/2 ounces, or the size of a nine-volt battery. Two cups of cottage cheese provides 1 cup of dairy. Dairy foods can be high in fat, so select low-fat or fat-free varieties.
- USDA: What's in a Serving Size?
- USDA: What Counts as an Ounce Equivalent in the Protein Foods Group?
- USDA: How Much Food from the Protein Foods Group is Needed Daily?
- USDA: How Much Fruit Is Needed Daily?
- USDA: What Counts as a Cup of Fruit?
- USDA: How Many Vegetables Are Needed Daily or Weekly?
- USDA: What Counts as a Cup of Vegetables?
- National Heart Lung and Blood Institute: Larger Portion Sizes Contribute to U.S. Obesity Problem
- USDA: What Counts as an Ounce Equivalent of Grains?
- USDA: What Counts as a Cup in the Dairy Group?
Jennifer Dlugos is a Boston-based writer with more than 10 years of experience in the health-care and wellness industries. She is also an award-winning filmmaker and screenwriter who teaches screenwriting and film production classes throughout New England. Dlugos holds a master's degree in dietetics.