The Portion Distortion Guide

Selecting the right foods also means choosing portions that are proper serving sizes. The terms "portion" and "serving" are often used interchangeably, but they don't mean the same thing.

A "portion" is the amount of food you choose to eat for meals or snacks (like a plateful of pasta or a handful of raisins). In comparison a "serving" is the amount of food that experts recommend you eat (like 1 cup of milk or 1 ounce of bread). Servings are listed on a food's nutrition facts label too.

When choosing your portion, try to make it as close as possible to these recommended serving sizes.

Grains: Aim for 6-11 servings each day. Choose whole grains whenever possible.
  • Bread: 1 ounce (1 small slice, 1/2 bagel, 1/2 bun), or about the size of an index card
  • Cooked Grains: 1/2 cup cooked oats, rice or pasta, or about the size of a billiard ball
  • Dry cereal: 1/2 cup flakes, puffed rice or shredded wheat, or about the size of a billiard ball
Fruits and Vegetables: Aim for 5-9 total servings each day. Choose fresh fruits and veggies whenever possible.
  • Raw fruit: 1/2 cup raw, canned or frozen fruit, or about the size of billiard ball
  • Dried fruit: 1/4 cup raisins, prunes or apricots, or about the size of an egg
  • Juice: 6 oz 100% fruit or vegetable juice, or about the size of a hockey puck
  • Raw vegetables: 1 cup leafy greens, baby carrots or about the size of a baseball
  • Cooked vegetables: 1/2 cup cooked broccoli, potatoes, or about the size of a billiard ball

Meat and Beans: Aim for 2-3 servings each day. Choose lean meats and plant proteins whenever possible.
  • Meat & Tofu: 2-3 oz cooked beef, poultry, fish or tofu, or about the size of a deck of cards
  • Beans: 1/2 cup cooked beans, split peas or legumes, or about the size of a billiard ball
  • Nuts & Seeds: 2 tbsp nuts, seeds or nut butters, or about the size of a ping pong ball
Dairy: Aim for 2-3 servings of calcium-rich foods each day. Choose low- or non-fat products whenever possible.
  • Cheese: 1 ounce or 1 thin slice of cheese, or about the size of a pair of dice
  • Milk: 1 cup milk, yogurt or non-dairy milk alternative, or about the size of a baseball
Fats & Oils: Eat fats and oils sparingly and in small portions. Choose heart-healthy fats whenever possible.
  • Fat & Oil: 1 tsp butter, margarine or oil, or about the size of one die
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Member Comments

According to these serving sizes by volume, I have probably been eating at least twice the number of servings of fruits and vegetable than I have been "quick" tracking on the Start page. In the nutrition tracker, I have been entering the weights of the food I eat. Using that method for veggies the serving sizes are much larger in volume. Report
great article Report
I'm wondering how many grams should one eat for breakfast, dinner or supper. It would be great to find it out! Report
Thank you for the visual comparisons... billiard balls, deck of cards, those are things I can imagine accurately. Report
Wow they should take this article down. This is almost 15 years old, and the info in it, from 20-30 years ago. The USDA food pyramid is based on lobbied research. People should be eating alot less refined carbs, and fats is not the enemy, sugar is. Report
I wish cheese was the size of a softball :( Report
Thank you for the information. Report
I've never seen a hockey puck. I'd really like to get these kinds of things in weights. Easier to be precise. Report
Thank you for this article, saving for later. Report
If half a cup of cooked oats is a serving, why is the nutrition information on the bag given for half a cup uncooked? Report
Look on many healthy sites to get correct sizes for portions. Especially as a diabetic. Report
Servings are ridiculous. If portions are what we naturally eat, servings need to be resized to match. Report
I see many people choosing a lot of food for their meal even on the Spark Community. They must be very very active to be able to lose weight on what they consider to be a suitable portion. Report
An optimist is a person who sees a green light everywhere, while the pessimist sees only the red stoplight. The truly wise person is colorblind. - Albert Schweitzer ~ 1/20/18 Report
I select appetizers on the menu if the restaurant won't let me order off the children's menu.
It works better for me then to order knowing the portions are going to be huge. Report

About The Author

Nicole Nichols
Nicole Nichols
A certified personal trainer and fitness instructor with a bachelor's degree in health education, Nicole loves living a healthy and fit lifestyle and helping others do the same. Nicole was formerly SparkPeople's fitness expert and editor-in-chief, known on the site as "Coach Nicole." Make sure to explore more of her articles and blog posts.
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