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Portion control can be a challenge for all of us especially in today’s society where food is aplenty. The average portion sizes have significantly increased over the last thirty years. Consider, for example, in the 1980s the average coffee was sold in a Styrofoam cup and contained around 180 calories. Now it’s not uncommon for people to buy the largest sized coffee, which contains three times as much milk, caffeine and calories. Without realising it a slight increase in portion size can make a significant impact to your overall food intake and ultimately your waistline.

If you are eating well, sometimes too much of a good thing is still too much. Often when I do a food and diet assessment with a patient, on paper the types of foods they are eating all look very healthy. You could be left scratching your head wondering why they’re gaining weight. However upon further assessment, writing down the size of their meals, snacks and drinks, it is evident their portion sizes have crept up so they’re eating more than they realise; albeit healthy kinds of foods. Most of us are eating way more than we really need to eat. Our body does not need a lot of fuel if we are feeding ourselves with nutritious options.

So what constitutes an appropriate portion size? The answer to this question is discussed below, along with tips on how to keep portion sizes down without feeling hungry or deprived.

How Much Is Enough?

The following list is a guide to what constitutes a portion for everyday foods.

  • Approximately a palm-sized serving of meat, chicken, tofu or fish for lunch and dinner.
  • Two eggs is one serve. Allow two to three servings of eggs (or around 4–6 eggs) per week instead of another protein source.
  • Two serves of fruit per day (really no more than this unless you are particularly physically active as this adds extra natural sugar). Examples of a serve of fruit includes half a large banana or mango, two small plums or apricots, a medium apple, pear, peach or nectarine, a small bunch of grapes or half a cup of cut melon.
  • Occasional fruit juice (half a glass) and dried fruit (around 30g = 1½ tbsp sultanas or 4 apricot halves) instead of one serving of fruit
  • 2–3 cups of cooked vegetables or 4–5 cups of fresh salad per day
  • 2–3 servings of dairy, which includes a matchbox-size of cheese (allow a maximum of 1–2 serves of cheese per day), a 250 ml glass of milk and/or 200 grams of plain, unsweetened yoghurt per day.
  • A tennis ball sized serve of rice, noodles, quinoa, polenta, oats or pasta (allow 1–2 serves per day)
  • 1⁄2 cup of cooked dried or canned lentils, peas, or beans (if canned choose with no added salt varieties)
  • Two slices of bread is one serve (allow 1–2 serves per day)
  • Small bowl of cereal per day (around ½ cup depending on the cereal)
  • A handful of nuts per day (around 15 almonds, 10 brazil nuts, 15 cashews, 15 macadamia or a small handful of raw, unsalted mixed nuts)
  • Two finger-widths size for the occasional snack such as a protein bar
  • A tbsp of dressing or sauce with lunch or dinner
  • Thin spread of butter or avocado on bread per day

For all other foods that constitute ‘sometimes’ foods if you choose to eat these have in small amounts.

Health Fact…

There is not one ratio of daily macronutrient proportions that is associated with good health but a range.
√ 20–35% fat
√ 45–65% carbohydrates
√ 15–25% from protein

Tricks to Portion Control

The trick to portion control is to slightly alter your portion sizes so that you do not feel hungry or deprived. This extra amount that you would otherwise eat but not miss has been coined the ‘mindless margin’ and is easy enough to leave off your plate without noticing the difference. Up to 20 per cent of the food on our plate can easily be left off without making a noticeable difference to our hunger levels.

Some general tips to keeping portion sizes down include:

  • Eat from smaller plates and bowls. Consider eating your main meal from an entrée sized plate and soups and desserts from a small children’s-sized bowl rather than a large one. By eating from a smaller plate or bowl our brain is tricked into thinking we are eating the same amount of food because our meal still fills the entire plate/bowl.
  • Fill at least half of your plate with salad or non-starchy vegetables (such as lettuce, spinach, broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus, squash, zucchini, eggplant, green beans). Since we tend to eat with our eyes and not with our stomachs the trick is to fill your plate with these lower-calorie foods so that your brain still sees a full plate.
  • One quarter of our plate can be topped with starches including rice, potatoes, corn, carrots, pasta, quinoa and noodles.
  • One quarter can be a protein source including meat, chicken, fish, tofu, lentils/beans.
  • Drink from tall skinny glasses instead of short wide glasses as skinny glasses look fuller
  • Keep on hand small containers for portioning out snacks rather than eating from the original packaging.
  • If making a large serving of a meal, portion out into individual servings and freeze for another day/meal.
  • Water down fruit juice or, better still, avoid completely and choose whole fruit instead (but avoid extra natural sugar).
  • Choose a salad option when dining out (dressing on the side).
  • Choose pre-packaged party-sized servings of chocolate and sweets to have as your occasional snack.
  • Drink a large glass of water 10–15 minutes before a meal. This can curb appetite.
  • Think 20 per cent less overall food on your plate and 20 per cent more vegetables or salad on your plate.

Hopefully with these simple tips we may all find managing our portions a little easier.


Dr Cris

Holistic Medical Doctor, Author ‘Healthy Habits, 52 Ways to Better Health

Healthy Habits book Dr Cris