Starchy foods are our main source of energy, so base every meal around them. This will help you to stop feeling hungry and maintain your weight (depending on how much exercise you do).
The following amounts count as just one portion.
These may look tiny but don't panic! You'll have more than one portion in each meal to get enough starchy foods per day. So, with the cereal for example, you can have three portions in one meal (for more information, see below).
Most of us need to eat about six to eight portions of starchy foods per day but this will depend on how active you are. If you're trying to lose weight you'll need to eat fewer portions but aim to eat around two portions in every meal. Try to go for wholegrain or wholemeal versions of starchy foods because they're likely to keep you feeling fuller for longer due to the fibre content. The dry or uncooked amount you need for a meal (including pasta or other dry foods before they are cooked) is often suggested on the packaging. For example, most packets suggest 75g of dry weight pasta is a suitable amount for one meal (person). When cooked this is about nine heaped tablespoons (the equivalent of three portions of starchy foods).
Here are some suggestions on how to mix up the types of starchy food you eat in a typical day. Please note that some starchy foods below are described in their cooked weight rather than dry weight.
Day 1 = total of seven portions
- Breakfast: a bowl of bran flakes (about nine tablespoons or 60g) = three portions
- Lunch: two slices of bread in a sandwich = two portions
- Dinner: four small boiled potatoes, each the size of an egg, as a side to your meal = two portions
Day 2 = total of eight portions
- Breakfast: two crumpets = two portions
- Lunch: a filled pitta bread = two portions
- Dinner: rice with your dinner (about eight tablespoons (320g) of cooked rice) = four portions
Day 3 = total of seven portions
- Breakfast: two slices of brown bread toast = two portions
- Lunch: pasta salad (containing about nine tablespoons (240g) of cooked pasta) = three portions
- Dinner: noodle stir fry (containing six heaped teaspoons (160g) of cooked noodles) = two portions
You can adjust these amounts to suit your needs. If you’re trying to lose weight, eat fewer portions per day. This will mean 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.
Meat, fish and other proteins
Proteins are important for your body as they're involved in growth and repair. As well as meat and fish, proteins can come from dairy and non-dairy sources like beans and pulses. Aim to eat two portions of protein per day – with at least one portion of oily fish a week (if your diet allows).
Here's what counts as a portion.
A day’s worth of protein 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.
If you're vegan, it might look like a chickpea pancake for breakfast with an egg-free tofu omelette for dinner.
If you eat meat, try to limit the amount of red and processed meat you eat to 70g per day. Red meats include beef, pork, and lamb; processed meats include bacon and burgers. These can be high in saturated fat and salt, which can raise your cholesterol and in turn, your risk of heart disease and bowel cancer.
Dairy foods contain calcium for healthy bones and teeth, and are also a good source of protein. Aim to have three portions of dairy a day (if your diet allows) and go for lower-fat options when you can. If you're vegan, see non-dairy sources of calcium below.
Here's what counts as a portion.
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.
Non-dairy sources of calcium and protein
There's a range of non-dairy foods that are great sources of calcium for healthy bones and teeth. Aim to have three portions a day.
Here's what counts as a portion.
Check to see if non-dairy alternative products are fortified with calcium and, ideally, vitamin D and B vitamins too.
Fruit and vegetables
Aim to eat at least five portions of fruit and vegetables a day.
One portion is 80g of any fruit or vegetable or 30g if it's dried.
Here's what counts as a portion.
Have a glass of fruit juice with your breakfast and have the odd fruit snack during the day. If you have a sandwich at lunchtime, include some salad as it will count towards another of your five a day.
To help fill you up without stacking up the calories, fill your plate with vegetables at dinner.
Fat and sugar
Foods high in fat and sugar include:
- cooking oils and salad dressings
- fried foods, such as chips
Drinks high in fat and sugar include:
- fizzy soft drinks
- sports drinks
Although these can be really tempting, try not to consume many. There isn't really a portion size to aim for – consider them treats and try to cut down as much as you can.
It can be difficult to change unhealthy habits – approach it slowly and steadily so you’re not trying to make a big change that’s hard to stick to. Try to reduce the amount of fatty and sugary food and drinks you consume slowly. That way, you're more likely to succeed. Start by limiting yourself to one of these items a day, then every other day and then once a week. Keep going and see how much you can achieve.
Tips for cutting down portion sizes
Here's how to cut down your portion sizes. Give these tips a try to retrain your brain (and stomach)!
- Drink a glass or two of water before your meal to start filling you up. It might mean you eat less.
- Use smaller plates or bowls for your meals. A small plate full of food is much more cheerful than a large plate that’s half empty.
- 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.
- To help cut down on fatty oils and spreads, use all the tricks out there to help you. There are sprays of both oil and butter that will help you cut down your portion. While it won't make it healthy, at least you should eat less.
- Try not to eat while doing something that can distract you, such as working, reading or watching TV. This might make you eat more.
- Have a break after your meal before you have dessert. It takes time for your brain to recognise that your stomach is full. So wait about 15 to 20 minutes before deciding if you need that extra course.
- If you're struggling with your weight, think about everything you eat during the day and keep a food diary. Compare your diet against this guide for a week or so and you'll start to identify areas where you’re eating more than you should.
While you're adjusting your portion sizes, make sure the overall balance of the food groups you eat stays the same. Keep things healthy and balanced.
- Maintaining a healthy weight and preventing excess weight gain among adults and children. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), 13 March 2015. www.nice.org.uk
- Eating well: your weight wise plan. British Dietetic Association. www.bdaweightwise.com, accessed 3 August 2015
- Facts not fads – your simple guide to healthy weight loss. British Heart Foundation. www.bhf.org.uk, published 1 January 2015
- Your guide to healthy eating using the food pyramid. Safe Food. www.safefood.eu, accessed 4 August 2015
- Meat, fish, eggs, beans and non-dairy protein sources. British Nutrition Foundation. www.nutrition.org.uk, reviewed February 2014
- Heart-health. British Dietetic Association. www.bda.uk.com, reviewed September 2014
- Tips for reducing the risk of cancer. British Nutrition Foundation. www.nutrition.org.uk, reviewed 21 December 2012
- Calcium counts. British Nutrition Foundation. www.nutrition.org.uk, reviewed September 2014
- Milk and dairy foods. British Nutrition Foundation. www.nutrition.org.uk, reviewed May 2014
- Portion guide. British Heart Foundation. www.bhf.org.uk, accessed 4 August 2015
- Fruit and vegetables. British Nutrition Foundation. www.nutrition.org.uk, reviewed February 2014
- Sugar. British Dietetic Association. www.bda.uk.com, reviewed October 2014
- Foods and drinks high in fat and/or sugar. British Nutrition Foundation. www.nutrition.org.uk, reviewed February 2014
- Handbook of Non Drug Intervention (HANDI) Project Team. Pre-meal water consumption for weight loss. Aust Fam Physician 2013; 42(7):478. www.racgp.org.au
- Tip 64 – weight loss. British Nutrition Foundation. www.nutrition.org.uk, accessed 13 August 2015
- Healthy snacking. British Nutrition Foundation. www.nutrition.org.uk, reviewed May 2014
- Weight loss. British Dietetic Association. www.bda.uk.com, reviewed February 2013
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Reviewed by Rachael Mayfield-Blake, Bupa Heath Content Team, August 2015.
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