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Portion size

No matter how healthy the food you eat is, you can still be at risk of serious health problems if you eat too much or too little for your energy needs. If you’re overweight despite sticking to a healthy, balanced diet, chances are you need to cut down your portion sizes. Here we outline recommended portion sizes and amounts for an average adult aiming to maintain their weight. If you’re aiming to lose excess weight, you will need to eat fewer portions than this.

Please note, the portion sizes and numbers in this article are calculated using published guidelines that estimate an average person’s nutritional and energy requirements.

Details

  • Starchy foods Starchy foods

    Eight to 10 portions per day (to maintain weight for an average adult, depending on your activity level).

    Starchy foods are our main source of energy and should form the basis of every meal.

    The following amounts count as one portion (however, you will usually have more than one portion at each meal).

    • three tablespoons of breakfast cereal
    • one slice of bread
    • half a baked potato
    • two small boiled potatoes
    • three tablespoons of boiled pasta
    • two tablespoons of boiled rice
    • 115g cooked noodles
    • half a pitta bread
    • half a scone
    • three small crackers

    Recommended amounts

    If you’re trying to maintain your weight, it’s best to aim for between two and four portions with every meal (to add up to eight to 10 for one day). So, some typical amounts for one meal may include the following. 

    cereal
    Cereal

    bread
    Bread

    Baked potato_web_104x83
    Baked potato

    boiled-potatoes
    Boiled potatoes
    Nine tablespoons – about the size of a tennis ball
    (three portions)
    Two slices of toast or a sandwich
    (two portions)
    One medium baked potato
    (two portions)
    Four small potatoes, each the size of an egg
    (two portions)
    An image showing some pasta
    Pasta
    An image showing a bowl of rice
    Rice
     An image showing a bowl of noodles
    Noodles
    An image showing a couple of pitta breads
    Pitta bread
    Nine tablespoons – about 60g
    (three portions)
    Six tablespoons – about 75g
    (three portions)
    One block of dried noodles
    (one portion)
    A filled pitta bread
    (two portions)

    A day’s amount may include nine tablespoons of cereal for breakfast, a sandwich for lunch and six tablespoons of rice with dinner. Try to go for wholegrain or wholemeal versions of starchy foods as they are likely to keep you feeling fuller for longer.

    Remember you can adjust these amounts to suit your own needs. If you’re trying to lose excess weight, only eat about five to eight portions per day, which will mean that the amount you have at each meal will be smaller. And if you decide to include most of your day’s quota of starchy foods in one meal, cut down throughout the rest of the day.

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  • Protein Meat, fish and other proteins

    Two to three portions per day – with at least one portion of oily fish a week.

    This group includes non-dairy sources of protein, which is important for growth and repair. Try to include one portion in at least two of your daily meals. One portion counts as the following.


    Lean meat

    Fish

    Eggs
    100g raw/75g cooked – the size of a deck of cards 75g oily fish or 150g white fish is the size of a cheque book Two medium-sized eggs

    Baked beans
     An image showing different types of pulses
    Pulses
    An image showing a packet of nuts
    Nuts
    Five tablespoons is half a tin Four tablespoons of pulses (eg lentils or chickpeas) is a heaped handful Two tablespoons is a small handful

    A day’s worth from this group might mean two eggs with breakfast and a piece of fish for dinner; or a chicken salad for lunch and half a tin of baked beans with dinner. Try to limit your intake of red and processed meat because they can be high in saturated fat, which can raise your cholesterol and cause heart disease.

  • Dairy Dairy

    Three portions a day.

    Dairy foods contain calcium for healthy bones and teeth, and are also a good source of protein. Try to include one portion with every meal, and go for lower-fat options when you can. A portion includes the following.  

    milk
    Milk

    An image showing a pot of yogurt
    Yoghurt

    Image showing a piece of hard cheese
    Hard cheese

    Cottage cheese_web_61x80
    Cottage cheese
    200ml is a small glass   
    150ml is a small pot    
    30g is the size of a small matchbox 90g or about two tablespoons

    The milk on your cereal and in your tea all counts. Go for lower-fat cheese and yoghurts, and skimmed or semi-skimmed milk. These contain just as much calcium as full-fat versions.

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  • Fruit and vegetables Fruit and vegetables

    At least five portions a day.

    One portion is 80g of any fruit or vegetable. Examples include:

    An image showing a pineapple
    Large fruit


    Medium-sized fruit

    An image showing a selection of fruit

    Small fruit

    An image showing some mixed berries
    Grapes and berries

    One or two slices of large fruit, such as mango, pineapple or papaya One medium-size fruit, such as an apple, orange, banana or peach Two small fruits, such as kiwis, plums, satsumas or clementines One to two handfuls of grapes or berries

    An image showing a glass of fruit juice
    Fruit juice and smoothies

    An image showing mixed vegetables
    Mixed veg

    An image showing a bowl of salad
    Salad leaves


    Beans

    150ml (a small glass) – this can only count as one portion a day Peas, carrots, sweetcorn and mixed veg – three heaped tablespoons One dessert bowl Three heaped tablespoons – this can only count as one portion a day

    Have a glass of fruit juice with your breakfast and snack on fruit throughout the day. If you have a sandwich at lunchtime, include some salad as it will contribute towards another of your five a day.

  • Fat and sugar Fat and sugar

    Limit your intake of these foods.

    Foods high in fat include butter, cream, chocolate and cakes. Foods and drinks high in sugar include soft drinks, sweets and biscuits. Only eat foods from this group sparingly.

  • Top tips Tips for cutting down portion sizes

    Many people are surprised when they realise what a typical portion size should look like. If you’re used to piling your plate high with pasta or filling your bowl to the brim with cereal, it can come as quite a shock. But once you cut down, you’ll soon get used to eating less.

    Here are some general pointers if you think you need to cut down portion sizes.

    • Use smaller plates or bowls for your meals. A small plate full of food is much less disheartening than a large plate that’s half empty.
    • You don’t need to cut down on your fruit and veg if you’re trying to lose weight. So if your plate is looking a bit sparse, fill it up with vegetables. And if you’re craving a mid-morning snack, go for a piece of fruit.
    • Think about everything you eat during the day. It’s easy to forget the biscuit you had with your tea at work or extra slice of cheese in your sandwich.
    • Counting calories and weighing food is no fun and hard to keep up. Instead, compare what you usually eat against this guide for a week or so and you can start to identify areas where you’re eating more than you should.
  • Resources Resources

    Further information

    Sources

    • A healthy varied diet. British Nutrition Foundation. www.nutrition.org.uk, published 11 January 2012
    • Starchy foods. Food Standards Agency. www.eatwellscotland.org, accessed 27 November 2012
    • Eating well – your weight wise plan. British Dietetic Association. www.bdaweightwise.com, published 2011
    • Dietary guidelines for Americans. US Department of Agriculture, US Department of Health and Human Services. www.cnpp.usda.gov, published December 2010
    • Healthy eating. British Dietetic Association. www.bda.uk.com, published October 2011
    • Milk and dairy. Food Standards Agency. www.eatwellscotland.org, accessed 28 November 2012
    • Fruit and veg. Food Standards Agency. www.eatwellscotland.org, accessed 28 November 2012
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