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Serving and Portion Sizes Explained

December 7, 2021
Serving and Portion Sizes Explained - Lark Health

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In this article: 

  • Portion sizes affect weight loss and health.
  • Serving sizes are standardized amounts of foods. Portion sizes are amounts of foods that you serve yourself.
  • Different types of foods have different serving sizes. Common groups include vegetables, fruit, grains, fats and oils, nuts and seeds, proteins, 
  • You can measure food or use another method, such as comparing the food to the size of standard objects. 
  • Lark can guide you towards healthy portion sizes and nutritious foods without focusing on weighing or using measuring cups or spoons. Losing weight and eating well can be simple and enjoyable.

Are you looking for a way to lose more weight without changing your lifestyle? Have you been eating right, but having trouble losing weight? The answer may lie in portion sizes.

The idea is simple. The amount of food that you eat affects your weight. When it comes to high-calorie foods, you can lose weight when you eat less, or take smaller portions. Eat larger portions, and you may gain weight. 

At the same time, having larger portions of some foods may actually help you lose weight and improve health. That is because some foods, such as raw vegetables, are low in calories and high in nutrients. 

How much of each food should you eat? The exact answer is different for each individual, but here are the basics on serving and portion sizes.

Serving Size vs Portion Size

Serving sizes are standard amounts of food. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics explains that they are the amounts of food that you may see on a nutrition facts panel. And they can be the amounts you see when you are looking at recommendations for daily intake.

Portion sizes are the amounts of food that are served or eaten. The Cleveland Clinic explains that keeping an eye on portion sizes can help control weight.

Why do serving and portion sizes matter? They help guide you in taking appropriate amounts of food. 

Many common portion sizes are really multiple serving sizes. Consider these “single portions” that are common. Compare them to the number of serving sizes they contain.

  • A bagel – 4 servings of grains.
  • A plate of pasta – 4 to 6 servings of grains.
  • A double burger with medium fries – 2 to 3 servings of protein, 7 servings of carbohydrates, and 8 servings of fat
  • Large Asian chicken salad with crispy chicken – 2 servings of protein, 7 servings of carbohydrates, and 20 servings of fat


Smart Portion Sizes

How much should you eat? The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases says that nutrition facts panels on food labels can give an idea of what the serving size is for that food.

You can also keep in mind the following guidelines for serving sizes. There are also ideas for estimating portions without weighing or using measuring cups or spoons. 

Type of Food Serving Size (Good Amount to Eat in a Single Meal) What It Looks Like (How to Estimate)
Bread (choose whole-grain when possible)
1 to 2 ounces
1 to 2 small slices of bread or halves of an English muffin, 1 mini bagel, 1 medium or small tortilla
  • Cooked beans
  • Grains, such as pasta, rice, quinoa, barley
  • Cottage cheese
  • Cooked sweet potato, white potato, peas, corn
⅓ to ½ cup
Computer mouse or cupcake wrapper or 2 eggs
Dried snack foods, such as chips and pretzels (choose whole-grain when possible)
1 ounce
Small handful
Cooked meat, poultry, or fish
3 ounces
Deck of cards or palm of hand
Cheese or low-fat cheese
1 ounce
C battery or 3 dice
  • Cooked or raw vegetables
  • Fresh or frozen fruit
1 cup
Baseball or tennis ball or closed fist
Air-popped popcorn
3 cups
3 baseballs
Butter or oil
1 teaspoon
Peanut or almond butter
1 tablespoon or ½ ounce
Thumb or ⅓ of a shot glass
  • Nuts or peanuts or seeds
  • Salad dressing, light salad dressing, or vinaigrette
2 tablespoons or ½ ounce
Ping pong ball or ⅔ of a shot glass

American Heart Association has some visual images of serving sizes.

Best Portion Sizes for Weight Loss

How much should you eat if you want to lose weight? The Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggest taking smaller portions of lower-nutrient, higher-calorie foods. These can include the following.

  • Sugar-sweetened foods, such as 
  • Sugar-sweetened beverages, such as soft drinks, sports drinks, and sugar-sweetened coffee and tea drinks.
  • Fatty foods, such as fatty meats and fried foods.
  • Refined starches, such as white bread, potato chips, and white rice and pasta.

If you are hungry, you can take larger portions of vegetables and fruit to fill up.

Logging with Lark

Logging what you eat and drink can be part of your weight loss strategy. A review article in Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism says that food tracking may be linked to increased weight loss.

These are some tips for logging meals with Lark.

  • Log consistently.
  • Log right after each meal or snack. Or, choose a time each day to log your meals and snacks for the day.
  • Remember to log "extras," such as salad dressings, spreads, tastes and bites of food, and cooking oils.
  • Try to notice your portion sizes when you eat so you can enter them into Lark.

That said, logging with Lark should not be a burden. Lark does not ask you to weigh your food or to use measuring cups and spoons all the time. Instead, being aware is more important. Generally, it is probably more important to eat bigger portions of low-calorie, nutrient-dense foods, such as vegetables, and to eat smaller portions of high-calorie, less nutritious foods, such as sweets. Common sense can be a good guide.

Lark can help you lose weight and improve wellness without interfering with your lifestyle. WIth Lark, coaching is available 24/7 through your smartphone. Look forward to tips and guidance for portion control and more. Lark may be available at no cost to you through your health insurance. Click here to find out!

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