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In the last 20 to 30 years there has been a steady increase in the portion or serving size of many popular foods, from chocolate bars to ice creams, from ready meals to fast foods.

Fashion has also influenced the way we eat, with trendy restaurants and interior designers using larges plates and glasses, which have started to arrive in our homes and are used for daily meals.

The overall result is that almost all of us are eating more than we need to maintain a healthy weight, and in many cases just reducing the portion size of our meals would be sufficient to reduce our weight, without the need for any weighing of food or calorie counting.

A good place to start to understand how to judge portion sizes is the eatwell plate. This explains about food groups, and in what proportion we should eat these to have a healthy and balanced diet that supplies us with all the energy and nutrients we need to function at our best.

Many of us might be familiar with the concept of eating at least five portions of fruit and vegetables per day. This is the minimum amount recommended by the World Health Organisation to avoid some serious problems such as certain cancers and cardiovascular disease.

There are recommendations on how many portions or servings per day to eat from all the other food groups too, and these are related to the amount of calories that each of us should eat daily to maintain a healthy weight. Below you can see two examples of such guidelines:

Food Group
1,500 Calories (kcal) 1,800 Calories (kcal)
Fruit and vegetables 7 or more portions 8 or more portions
Bread, rice, potatoes, pasta and other starchy foods 7 portions 8 portions
Milk and dairy foods 2 portions 2 portions
Meat, fish, eggs, beans and other non-dairy sources of protein 2 portions 3 portions
Spreading fats and oils (and dressings and sauces) 3 portions 3 portions
High-fat/high-sugar foods and alcohol Up to 100 kcal Up to 200 kcal

 

How much is a portion?

Use the Portion Guide below. This shows handy amounts – or portions – of common foods from all the food groups, so you can choose as you wish. But remember, portions are a funny thing. One person’s idea of a normal portion is often quite different from someone else’s. If you are having a larger amount than the list shows, it could be a double or a triple portion, so it would count as two or three. This is not necessarily bad, as we all need more than one portion of any food group in a day. Just be aware of how much you are having, and if it is the case you can just reduce the amount you are putting on your plate, without cutting out any of your favourite foods.

Fruit and Vegetables
Vegetables, eg, cauliflower, cabbage, peas, carrots, mushrooms, tomatoes, leeks, swede, courgettes, broccoli, French beans, peppers Three heaped tablespoons
Salad – mixed green, eg, lettuce, cucumber, onion, pepper One dessert bowl
Whole fresh fruits, eg, apple, pear, orange, banana, peach One fruit
Medium fruits, eg, satsumas, plums, apricots, tomatoes Two fruits
Small fruits, eg, grapes, berries, cherries, lychees, cherry tomatoes One handful
Large fruits, eg,melon, pineapple One slice
Tinned fruit in natural juice, eg, peaches, pineapple, raspberries, pears Three heaped tablespoons
Stewed fruit, eg, apple, rhubarb, cherries Three heaped tablespoons
Dried fruit, eg, raisins (maximum one portion per day) One heaped tablespoon
Fruit juice (maximum one per day) One small glass or small carton (150ml)

 

Bread, Rice, Potatoes, Pasta and Other Starchy Foods
These may seem like small portions but remember, you can use more than one of your portions per meal. Choose higher fibre/wholegrain options where possible.
Breakfast cereal, eg, flakes, crispies, porridge oats Three tablespoons
Muesli Two tablespoons
Shredded wheat One
Weetabix One
Bread or toast One large slice (medium thick)
Bread bun or roll Half a large
Pitta bread One mini or picnic size or half a normal size
Chapatti One small
Crackers Three
Crispbreads Four
Plain naan bread One small
Rice, plain boiled Two heaped tablespoons
Yam, boiled Two egg-sized pieces or a 11/2-inch thick slice,
100g (31/2 ounces)
Plantain, steamed One medium-sized
Pasta, plain, boiled Three heaped tablespoons
Egg noodles, boiled Three heaped tablespoons
Potatoes Two egg-sized
Bagel, plain or cinnamon and raisin Half
Crumpet/pikelet One
English muffin Half
Malt loaf 1 small slice (35g)

 

Milk and Dairy Foods
Milk (semi-skimmed or better still, skimmed) One medium glass, 200ml (1/3 pint)
Yoghurt, plain or flavoured, low-fat and low-sugar One small pot, 150g (5oz)
Cheese – preferably lower-fat varieties (Brie, Camembert, Edam, reduced-fat cheddar, smoked Austrian) One matchbox size, 30g (1oz)
Cream cheese – reduced-fat or low-fat varieties The size of two small matchboxes, 80g (3oz)
Low-fat cottage cheese One large pot, 200g (8oz)
Fromage frais One small pot, 150g (5oz)

 

Meat, Fish, Eggs, Beans and Other Non-dairy Sources of Protein
Cooked lean meat such as beef, pork, ham, lamb, chicken (without skin and all visible fat removed) Three slices (an amount the size of a pack of playing cards), 60-90g (2-3oz)
Fish – white (cooked) 150g (5oz)
Fish – oily
140g (41/2 oz)
Fish fingers Three
Eggs
Two
Baked beans in tomato sauce (low-sugar and low-salt if possible) One small tin (200g) or half a large tin (400g)
Lentils Four tablespoons, cooked
Beans, eg, red kidney beans, butter beans, chick peas Four tablespoons, cooked
Nuts, peanut butter (unsalted) Two level tablespoons
Quorn, tofu or soya 120g (4oz)

 

Spreading Fats and Oils (and Dressings and Sauces)
Spreading fats and oils
Low-fat spread Two teaspoons
Oil (unsaturated oils, eg, olive, rapeseed, sunflower, corn) One teaspoon
Butter or margarine spread or ghee One teaspoon
Dressings and sauces
Mayonnaise One teaspoon
Low-calorie mayonnaise Two teaspoons
Blue cheese dressing One teaspoon
Salad cream One tablespoon
Low-calorie salad cream Two tablespoons
Gravy or white sauce made with fat and flour base (roux) One tablespoon
Gravy or white sauce (made with cornflour, no fat added) Four tablespoons
Cream (double) Two teaspoons
Cream (single) Five teaspoons

 

High-fat/High-sugar Foods and Alcohol
10 - 99kcal
Sugar One teaspoon
16kcal
Jam One teaspoon
25kcal
Double cream
Two teaspoons
44kcal
Spirits
One pub measure
50kcal
100 - 199kcal
Ice cream e.g. vanilla
One small scoop
100kcal
Biscuits, plain
Two
100kcal
Sweets
One small tube or bag
100kcal
Glass of wine
150ml
100kcal
Slice of cake
One small slice (50g)
(50g) 150kcal
Crisps
One small packet (25g)
150kcal
Lager, cider or beer (ordinary strength)
Half a pint
125kcal
200+ kcal
Mini pork pie
One
200kcal
Quiche/tart
One quarter (small)
250kcal
Chocolate bar
One
250kcal
Danish pastry
One
400kcal

 

If the foods you like aren’t on the list, use the nutritional information on the packets to work out how much is suitable for you.

 

If you would like further information, please consult the 'helpful links' section on this page.

Fact Zone


Just reducing the portion size of everything you eat might be sufficient to lose weight, without having to count any calories.
When making a salad, remember the following amounts of vegetables equate to a portion: 5cm piece of cucumber, three sticks of celery, one medium tomato or seven cherry tomatoes.
When you plate up food for your family, keep in mind that you should serve different quantities for adults and children.
No matter how much you eat of them, beans and pulses only count as a maximum of one portion a day of your 5 a day.
One portion of cheese is as small as a box of matches.
Have you thought of using smaller plates and glasses at home to help you serve smaller portions?
Portion size depends on the food. For example one portion of fruit might be two plums or two satsumas, or one pear.
An adult sized portion of fruit or vegetable is about 80g. For a child (and as a guide), you can judge the size of a portion as the amount that they can fit into the palm of their hand.

 

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