Portion Size vs. Serving Size: Explaining the Difference

Nutrition is a confusing topic for many, and understandably so it is a complex subject matter. There is no right way or wrong way to eat, it really comes down to individual needs but it also comes down to personal preferences too. As registered dietitians and nutritionist look to guide others in regards to healthy eating, they often use serving sizes of certain food groups for guidance. Unfortunately, portion sizes are often confused as serving sizes.

What is a Serving?

A “serving” is the amount of food recommended in certain food groups, like fruits, vegetables or proteins.

Registered dietitians and nutritionists base the number of recommended servings on individual needs of calories, fat, protein and etc. And scientific literature gives us some guidance of how many servings of dairy, fruits, vegetables and etc. that certain age groups and certain populations need to ensure enough nutrients for optimal health.

Here are some common examples of serving sizes:

 1 teaspoon of margarine is the size of one dice

  • 3 ounces of meat is the size of a deck of cards
  • 1 cup of pasta is the size of a baseball
  • 1½ ounces of cheese is the size of four stacked dice
  • ½ cup of fresh fruit is the size of a tennis ball

What is a Portion?

A “portion” is the amount of a food you choose to eat at any one time, which may be more or less than a serving. When it comes to eating in the United States, larger portion sizes have become the norm over the last few decades. Large package sizes with more than one serving per bag or box, restaurants that want you to feel you’re getting a huge ‘value’ out of your meal and even larger plates, spoons and other glassware have all contributed to larger portion sizes. Because of the increased sizes of everything from chips to candy to restaurant portions, we’ve lost track of what a serving size. This “portion distortion” is likely one factor contributing to the obesity epidemic.

Summary of Portions vs. Servings

So to summarize, a serving size is a very specific amount that is measured and includes a certain number of calories and nutrients. This is what nutrition experts recommend one should eat for optional health of specific nutrients such as calories, fat, protein and etc. Portions are determined upon your specific level of hunger and how much you decide to eat at one time or sitting. Think of it as a big plate full of food or smaller plate of food as portion size.

Not knowing the serving sizes that you should be eating can be detrimental to your weight loss goals. Fortunately, a meal plan from Seattle Sutton Health Eating can help with this problem. Let us worry about the serving size of your meals so you can focus on living a healthier lifestyle!