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food nutrition labels

A key part of healthy eating means choosing appropriate amounts of different foods. When it comes to deciding how much to eat, the terms serving size and portion size are often interchangeable. Serving size is a standardized amount of food. It may be used to quantify recommended amounts, as is the case with the MyPlate food groups. It may also represent quantities that people typically consume on a nutrition facts label. Portion size is the amount of a food a person chooses to eat, which may be more than or less than a serving. The two terms may also have different meanings, depending on the situation. For example, the nutrition facts label may indicate ½ cup of cereal per serving. However, if a person eats ¾ cup, that is the portion size.

Estimating Portion Sizes

Measuring cups and spoons are great tools for making sure a portion is the same as the serving size. However, these tools aren’t always available when getting ready to eat. Another way for a person to estimate portion size is by comparing the food to their hand or object.

A baseball or an average-sized fist = 1 cup

  • 1 cup of cold cereal, 1 cup of rice or pasta
  • 8 oz of milk or yogurt
  • 8 oz of servings of natural fruit juices

A tennis ball or small, scooped handful = ½ cup or 1 ounce

  • 1 ounce of nuts
  • 1 ounce of dried fruits
  • ½ cup of fruit or vegetables

A deck of cards or the palm of the hand = 3 ounces

  • 3 ounces of fish, chicken, beef, and other meats

The size of the thumb = 1 tablespoon

  • 1 tablespoon of peanut butter or other nut spreads such as almond butter
  • 1 ounce of low-fat cheese

A postage stamp or the distance from the tip of your pointer finger to the first joint = 1 teaspoon

  • 1 teaspoon of oils or other fats

Plan Before Eating

Before eating, think about what and how much food goes on the plate and in the cup or bowl. It is easy to mistake a larger portion as a better value. To overcome portion distortion and downsize portions, try the following:

  • Read the Label – The nutrition facts label can help identify the appropriate serving size.
  • Eat from a plate, not a package – It is easy to eat more than one serving when eating straight from the box or bag.
  • Use the right measuring tools – Try portioning out foods with measuring cups and spoons to give an idea of what the serving size should look like.
  • Skip the upgrade – When dining out, it may seem like a better value to pay 50 cents extra for a larger size. However, people are actually paying for extra, unwanted calories, fats, sugar, salt, etc.
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