Mayo Clinic Health Library

Slide show: Guide to portion control for weight loss

Updated: 12-15-2012

Use visual cues for portion control

Three examples of visual cues for serving sizes

Portion control is an important concept when you're trying to lose weight and keep it off. But you don't need to memorize a food list or carry around measuring cups to get a better handle on serving sizes. Instead, use common visual cues to remind yourself of appropriate serving sizes. How? Many foods match up to everyday objects.

For example, a medium pepper is about the size of a baseball and equals one vegetable serving. While not all foods perfectly match visual cues, this method can help you better judge serving sizes and practice portion control, which may help with weight loss.

If you think the servings seem small, don't panic. Remember that you can eat multiple servings every day from each food group.

Fruits

A small apple is one serving

One small apple is about the same size as a tennis ball and equals one fruit serving, or about 60 calories. The same is true for a medium orange, which is also the size of a tennis ball and about 60 calories.

Other fruit servings

Fruit   1 serving size (60 calories)
Applesauce, sweetened   1/3 cup
Banana   1 small
Cherries   15 whole
Strawberries, whole   1 1/2 cups
100 percent fruit juice, unsweetened   1/2 cup

Vegetables

Half a cup of cooked carrots is one serving

Half a cup of cooked carrots is about the same as half a baseball and equals one vegetable serving, or about 25 calories. You can eat even more raw leafy vegetables. Two cups of spinach — think of two baseballs — are about 25 calories. 

Other vegetable servings

Vegetable   1 serving (25 calories)
Asparagus, cooked   1/2 cup (6 spears)
Cauliflower   1 cup florets (about 8)
Green beans, canned or frozen   2/3 cup
Tomato sauce, canned   1/3 cup
Zucchini, cooked or fresh   3/4 cup

Carbohydrates

Half a cup of pasta is one serving

Half a cup of whole-grain cooked pasta is about the same size as a hockey puck and equals one carbohydrate serving, or about 70 calories. If pasta isn't your thing, picture brown rice instead. You can have 1/3 cup of cooked brown rice for 70 calories.

Other carbohydrate servings

Carbohydrate   1 serving (70 calories)
Bagel, whole-grain   1/2 bagel (3-inch width)
Bun or roll, whole-grain   1 small
Cereal, cold, flake-type   3/4 cup
Crackers, whole-wheat   8
Muffin, any flavor   1 small

Protein/Dairy

Four small cheese cubes equal one serving

One and a half to 2 ounces of low-fat hard cheddar cheese are about the same size as three to four dice and equal one protein/dairy serving, or about 110 calories.

Other protein/dairy servings

Protein/dairy   1 serving (110 calories)
Cheese, ricotta, part-skim   1/3 cup
Cheese spread, American   1 ounce
Cottage cheese, low-fat   2/3 cup
Milk, skim or 1%   1 cup
Soy milk, low-fat   1 cup
Yogurt, plain, unsweetened   2/3 cup

Protein

A serving of chicken is 2.5 ounces

A 2.5-ounce piece of cooked skinless chicken is about the same size as two-thirds of a deck of cards and equals one protein/dairy serving, or about 110 calories. The same is true for a 2-ounce patty of cooked lean hamburger, which equals one serving and has about 110 calories.

Other protein/dairy servings

Protein/dairy   1 serving (110 calories)
Baked beans, canned   1/2 cup
Egg   1 whole
Fish (haddock), grilled or broiled   3 ounces
Pork sausage, smoked   2 small links
Tofu, firm or silken soft   2 slices (1-inch width)

Fats

Two teaspoons of mayonnaise are one serving

Two teaspoons of regular mayonnaise are about the same size as two dice and equal one fat serving, or about 45 calories.

Other fat servings

Fat   1 serving (45 calories)
Almonds   7 almonds
Avocado   1/6 section of fruit
Butter, regular   1 teaspoon
Peanut butter, chunky or smooth   1 1/2 teaspoons
Trans-free margarine   2 teaspoons
Salad dressing, ranch, regular   2 teaspoons
Vegetable oil (olive, canola, safflower)   1 teaspoon

Putting it all together

A healthy dinner with proper portions

It may take some practice to become a better judge of serving sizes and portions, especially as you put entire meals together. But the more you practice visualizing the cues, the more control you'll have over portion sizes. Controlling portion sizes also means controlling calories — and that's key to achieving your weight-loss goals.

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