A Quick Primer on Healthy Portion Sizes
Q: If I’m eating healthy, whole foods, do portion sizes still matter? If so, how do I figure them out?
A: Most nutrition experts (including me!) agreed a long time ago that calorie counting is not the best strategy for eating well. That doesn’t mean, however, that portion sizes aren’t helpful.
Overeating is still a real challenge for many people, and even nutritious foods like nuts (many of us can relate to that one!) and grass-fed beef can cause weight gain if eaten in excess.
I’m not suggesting you start serving your quinoa in a measuring cup or count every single almond you put in your mouth. (You’re way too busy for that nonsense.) But if you learn what healthy portion sizes look like in advance, you can easily draw on that information at meal and snack times to eyeball the amount you’re adding to your plate and of course, stay in touch with your HQ.
Below, you’ll find basic portion sizes for the major food groups. These will vary person to person, depending on gender, age, weight, and how much activity you’re engaging in, so use them only as a starting point and then listen to your body.
Healthy Portion Sizes
The best news first: eat ‘em up! With veggies, you don’t have to consider portions. In fact, pile those greens as high as you can. (Unless, of course, your veggies are more oil than they are veggies.) This includes fresh herbs, too, which your taste buds will appreciate.
Many fruits come in pre-portioned sizes, like apples, bananas, oranges, and peaches. If you can bite right into it, one is probably the magic number. But, if you’re eating an apple and you feel slightly satisfied after just a half, by all means, wrap up the second half. For berries and things you tend to slice like melon or mango, keep it under one cup. Dried fruit is super sugary (even the no-added-sugar kind, which is definitely what you’re eating right?), so cut it off at two tablespoons. Finally, everyone’s fave: avocado (yes, it’s a fruit!) is filled with healthy fats, so stick to eating a quarter of one at a time.
Whether it’s whole wheat pasta, quinoa, or farro, a half cup (cooked) is usually a good portion size. For bread (you’re of course eating whole wheat or sprouted…), one slice is a better portion size than two. So, make friends with “toasts” over sandwiches.
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Go with a half cup of cooked black beans, garbanzos, or lentils. But, if these are your only protein source for your meal, you may need more. What else is on your plate?
Nuts and Seeds
For nuts like almonds, walnuts, and cashews, 10 or so is a healthy portion. That basically works out to one small handful. For seeds like chia, hemp, or pumpkin, go with two teaspoons.
Lean Meat and Fish
For beef, chicken, turkey, and fish, four to six ounces is appropriate for a meal. Picture a bar of soap or an iphone 6. If it’s for a snack, stick to two to three ounces.
Two eggs. I recommend saying yes to the yolks, but if you’re sticking to whites, then up that to four.
Go for an ounce of whole, real cheeses like feta, fresh mozzarella, or organic sharp cheddar. That looks like two small cubes, like two dice, or about a half-inch thick slice of a block (depending on the shape!).
One last thing to keep in mind: Watch out for dressings, sauces, and condiments. Many people pour them on a little too generously, ruining a perfectly portioned veggie-grain bowl. Stick to just a teaspoon or tablespoon for flavor—and experiment with no-portions-needed vinegars, herbs, and spices, more.