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Portion Size vs. Serving Size: Do You Know the Difference?

By Ms. Qula Madkin, MSU Extension Service

A key part of leading a healthier lifestyle is to integrate a variety of foods in the right amounts into your daily diet. When it comes to deciding how much to eat, serving size and portion size are often used interchangeably, but they are not the same thing.

A serving size is a standardized amount of food. It may be used to quantify recommended amounts, as with the MyPlate food groups, or represent quantities that people typically consume on a Nutrition Facts label.

Portion size is the amount of food you choose to eat, which may be more or less than a recommended serving.

Here are a few tips to help guide your portion sizes:

  • Always plate your food. It’s much easier to eat more than you need when eating straight from a bag or box. If you are unsure about portion sizes, use a small plate or a pre-portioned container for your meals or snacks. Vegetables or a combination of vegetables and fruits should make up half of your plate.

  • Eat slowly and pay attention. It takes our brains about 20 minutes to register that we are full. If you speed through a meal, it’s easy to miss this cue, which may cause overeating.

  • Read the label. The Nutrition Facts label can help you identify the appropriate serving size. For more information about the Nutrition Facts label, visit the Food and Drug Administration website.

  • Learn to estimate portion sizes with your hands. Measuring cups and spoons are great tools for portion control, but these utensils aren't always available when you're getting ready to eat. When these tools aren’t around, estimate your portions by comparing them to something else.

    • A baseball or an average-sized fist

      • Measures about 1 cup

      • An appropriate portion size for raw or cooked vegetables, whole fruit, or 100% fruit juice

    • A tennis ball or a small, scooped handful

      • Measures about half cup

      • Equal to 1-ounce of grains, such as pasta, rice, and oatmeal

    • A deck of cards or the palm of the hand

      • Measures about 3 ounces

      • An appropriate portion size for fish, chicken, beef, and other meats

    • The size of the thumb

      • Measures about 1 tablespoon

      • An appropriate portion size for peanut butter or other nut spreads such as almond butter

    • A postage stamp or the tip of the pointer finger to the first joint

      • Measures about 1 teaspoon

      • An appropriate portion size for oils or other fats

There is no one-size-fits-all in portion control. Use these tips to guide your portions.

For more nutrition and wellness tips, join our MSU Nutrition and Wellness Facebook Group and visit the MSU Extension website.

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