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When Size Really Matters

When Size Really Matters

Have you ever grabbed a muffin on the way to work and studied the nutrition facts on the back while you were in line to pay? You might have thought, “Hey, this isn’t too bad, I’ll get two!” Although it would make sense for the nutrition label to list the nutritional information for the entire muffin, today it’s more likely to find the serving size to be half the muffin. Whether the company figured you’d share the muffin, or that you’d save the other half for later, we’re not sure! However, we do know that the serving size and number of servings is where to start when reading the nutrition facts. The serving size and servings per container, found at the top of the Nutrition Facts label, will give insight on how to read everything that follows.

Bottom line, people gain weight because more calories are consumed than can be used by their body. These calories add up quickly and it’s easy to be misled when a muffin is half a serving size! Who eats just half a muffin? This has become an issue because restaurants and food companies have increased their serving sizes by two to three times what they used to be 20 years ago, and people unknowingly eat more when they are confronted with larger portion sizes, as shown by some short-term studies.2 This means, without even realizing it, you could be consuming a 500 calorie, 5 ounce muffin today that 20 years ago was only 210 calories and 1.5 ounces.1 Studies have also reported similar ratings of hunger and fullness after each meal despite the intake differences.3 As portion sizes double, it becomes twice as hard to stay mindful of how much we eat. What’s a normal serving supposed to look like? Here is a quick guide to help you be mindful of the original portion sizes! For foods like veggies you don’t need to limit to a serving size.

Food item Serving Size Hand Measurement
Cooked pasta 1/2 cup A rounded handful
Fruit 1 cup Clenched fist
Meat 3 oz Palm of your hand
Oil or butter 1 teaspoon Top segment of your index finger
Vegetables 1/2 cup to 1 cup Clenched fist
Cheese 1 oz A thumb

This isn’t to say that you are to have only a half-cup of pasta for a meal. The number of servings you consume will vary according to your daily needs. Here are the recommended servings for the average man and woman:

According to ChooseMyPlate:

Grains Vegetables Fruits Dairy Protein
Men (2,000 calories) 6 oz 2.5 cups 2 cups 3 cups 5.5 oz
Women (1,600 calories) 5 oz 2 cups 1.5 cups 3 cups 5 oz

It may take a minute or two to get used to visualizing the portion sizes, but once you catch on, you’ll be able to point them out like the back of your hand–literally!

The Harvard Heathy Eating Plate is an alternative to MyPlate. It is a similar concept as MyPlate as it recommends eating foods based on proportions (i.e. half your plate veggies) but does not recommend specific portion sizes or dairy at every meal. In fact, they suggest limiting milk and dairy products to no more than one to two servings per day.5 For those non-dairy lovers, this might be a better option for you!

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

  1. Serving Sizes and Portions. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Published September 30, 2013.
  2. Larger Portion Sizes Contribute to U.S. Obesity Problem. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Published September 30, 2013.
  3. Do Increased Portion Sizes Affect How Much We Eat? Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Published May 2006.
  4. Serving Sizes: Approximations to Common Items. Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Published January 25, 2006.
  5. Calcium and Milk. Harvard T.H. Chan. School of Public Health.