Using the proper serving sizes is a crucial part of eating healthier. Get some easy tips to find and measure serving size!
Portion control is a method that many people use to eat less food.
One way to control your portion size is by checking the serving size.
Eating a serving size is helpful, especially if you eat too many portions of the wrong food. For example, cutting back to just one serving of cake or brownie or one handful (serving) of those delicious salty chips is an excellent eating habit for your health and wellness.
In addition, keeping aware of serving sizes can also help you make healthier food choices, measure calories, reduce sodium, and even lose weight.
Careful monitoring of serving sizes may be required for health conditions like diabetes, hypertension, or kidney disease.
That said, within the last five years, the FDA recently mandated that food companies list serving sizes closer to the portion sizes of what people are actually eating. They changed the law(s) to ensure consumers had access to standardized serving sizes and more clarity on the number of calories they would consume if they ate that serving.
So now, the serving sizes you find on the Nutrition Facts label DO NOT reflect recommended serving sizes.
This is important to note because you can continue to reduce your calories by eating less than the stated serving sizes and still feel satisfied.
Unfortunately, it can still be confusing at times. So this article will offer tips to make measuring a serving size much more manageable.
Definition of Serving Size
First, let’s talk about the definition of serving sizes.
The phrase serving size refers to the information on a Nutrition Facts label using the FDA (the Food and Drug Administration) guidelines.
In contrast to the serving size, a portion is an actual amount on your plate. Therefore, a portion may be more or less than a serving size. Portions are how people talk about the amount of food they eat.
In general, serving size may help guide you to nutritionally appropriate portions.
Serving sizes help you figure out how much food to eat at one time. That said, the labeling can be confusing for some foods. (Note: you do not have to eat the total amount, especially if it’s not a healthy option.)
For example: if you know you should eat a cup of yogurt but only two tablespoons of peanut butter, you can discern there are more calories per portion in peanut butter than yogurt.
Therefore, you can get a feel for the number of calories in food simply by reading the amount of food in the serving size.
The good news is that over time when deciding what to eat, you’ll naturally ask yourself, “What is a typical or standard serving size?”
What to Use to Measure Serving Size
You will see volumes of tools, strategies, and tricks to measuring serving size, but measuring cups and food scales are the two most effective and inexpensive kitchen items that work the best, and you may already have them.
I like this 19-Piece Measuring Cup and Spoon Set (#pdlink) because it has more than just the typical four sizes of 1/4, 1/3, and 1/2 cups.
I also use this Digital Food Scale (#pdlink) almost daily.
If you are trying to lose weight, measuring or weighing your food will give you the most accurate results and get you to your goal faster than estimating or guessing.
You may already have these in your kitchen, but if you do not, please know they are worth the small investment. The digital food scale is helpful when working with protein, nuts, and grains and is super accurate.
If you want to pre-measure your food for lunch at work or future evening meals, you might like these food standard serving containers.
Or you can use containers to pre-measure your food to simplify meal prep.
Let’s Keep it Simple – Serving Size of Ice Cream and Cookies!
Sometimes you’ll want to treat yourself! But, as I said above, you can limit your portion to make a healthier choice.
So, if you find yourself asking the question ‘What is one serving of ice cream?’ or ‘How many cookies should I eat?’ over and over again – remember these two things:
- A serving size of ice cream = 1/2 cup – 2/3 of a cup (ice cream serving size varies depending on the flavor, brand, and ingredients. If there is candy, chocolate, or nuts in it, the serving size will be smaller). A pro tip: use a melon baller tool (#pdlink) to scoop ice cream if you want to feel like you’re eating a ‘large’ serving of ice cream! Five small scoops look bigger than one scoop!
- A serving size of a cookie = 1-3 cookies (Cookie serving size will also vary depending on the size of the cookie and the ingredients.) You can expect the serving size of 1/2 dollar-sized cookies to be more than softball-sized cookies.
The bottom line is to eat realistic serving sizes when you treat yourself while trying to lose weight, manage a health condition, or eat healthier.
The saying, everything in moderation is a reliable guide!
Serving Size of Fruit and Vegetables
Generally, you can estimate that a serving of cup up fruit or vegetables will be around 1/3 to 1/2 cup. Leafy greens bounce up to 1 cup.
If you eat whole food, you can gauge the size by comparing it to the bottom of your fist to estimate a serving.
Just make it simple.
You can eat a lot of fresh produce. You’ll feel full but not consume many calories.
On the contrary, if you eat two store-bought toaster pastries, you will find them gone pretty quickly, you won’t feel full, but you’ll have consumed 400 calories!
Find and Measure Serving Size Found on Food Labels
Foods that are in a package are required to have a food label. Many things are listed on a food label, but for this article, we’ll focus only on the serving size and calories, typically listed at the top.
The serving size will list how many calories are in that measurement (and also tell you the measure of nutrients in the serving size).
Next, you can see how many calories are in EACH SERVING of 1/2 cup, which is 150 calories. (So, if you eat one cup of the food, you are eating two servings and thus 300 calories.)
Here is an example. Listed right beneath the title ‘Nutrition Facts,’ you can see the serving size is 1/2 cup dry (40 g) (dry, meaning you will likely add liquid to it, but the dry contents are listed here).
Using a food label is reasonably straightforward, but it gets more challenging when you start eating more healthy foods because you usually buy them fresh.
Fresh fruits & vegetables may not always come with a food label, and you’ll need to look them up.
How to Calculate Serving Size
- Look at the Nutrition Facts label on the package.
- Note the serving size immediately under the title ‘Nutrition Facts.’
- Also, note the number of servings in the container located under the serving size (This will tell you if the entire contents are more than one serving, i.e., a bag of chips.)
- Some foods require adding liquid before eating. If you see the word dry after the serving size, you will also need to find the liquid’s serving size (important if you’re watching calories).
A Note on Measuring Sodium
The American Heart Association recommends no more than 2,300 milligrams (mg) daily for most adults. However, an ideal limit for people with high blood pressure is no more than 1,500 mg per day.
You must focus on the sodium on the food label if you’re watching your blood pressure or cholesterol. Even cutting back 1,000 mg/day has been shown to improve blood pressure and heart health.
The Salt & Sodium Connection
If you are working to lower your blood pressure (or lose weight), you need to understand how much sodium is in salt so you can make changes to control your sodium intake.
Sodium chloride or table salt is approximately 40% sodium.
- 1/4 teaspoon salt = 575 mg sodium
- 1/2 teaspoon salt = 1,150 mg sodium
- 3/4 teaspoon salt = 1,725 mg sodium
- 1 teaspoon salt = 2,300 mg sodium
On a food label, the values reported are ‘per serving.’ So, for example, you must double the sodium intake if you eat an entire can of soup containing two servings.
Watch out for the ‘Salty 6’
The top six common foods that add the most salt to your diet are grouped in the ‘Salty 6.’ Make it a habit to read food labels so you can use the brands that contain the lowest sodium for these items:
- Bread and Rolls
- Cold cuts and cured meats
At home, most sodium is consumed (up to 75%) from processed foods like soups, tomato sauce, condiments, and canned goods.
Sodium can be ‘hidden’ in some foods. These are foods we forget to consider:
- Salted snacks, nuts, and seeds (buy unsalted)
- Frozen dinners and snack foods
- Condiments (ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise)
- Pickles and olives
- Seasoned salts like garlic salt, onion salt, or celery salt
- Sauces like barbeque, soy, steak, and Worcestershire
Avoiding fast food is a great way to lower sodium while dining out.
Check the menu for low sodium options, and you can also request your food be prepared without using salt at most restaurants.
Find and Measure Serving Size Found on Websites
You can search online for the number of calories in a portion of specific food and find numerous websites that can provide that information.
Sometimes though, the data is hard to see on a prominent site.
Here is a website that offers a database of common foods, grocery foods, and restaurant foods. Find the search tab and enter your food to see the calories and nutritional information.
Some authors try to make it easier for you and show you ways to ‘estimate’ a serving size by comparing food to an everyday item.
The problem now, though, is that many authors have added so many things it is hard to remember the menagerie of items (tennis ball, a deck of cards, baseball, dice, cupcake liner, hockey puck, spice containers, spoons, baby food jar, and even small amphibians).
So find a set of items that you can remember.
So far, my favorite is this website because it has only four things to remember. That’s more my speed.
And here is a wallet card that may be helpful.
But, honestly, in the end, calorie apps are my favorite way to go.
Find and Measure Serving Size Found in Calorie Counter Apps
If you have a smartphone, free calorie counter apps give you the information you need right when you need it.
These two apps below offer fabulous food serving size calculator information for free. You choose the serving size, and it provides calories and nutrient information. Both are great.
How Do You Calculate Serving Size for a Recipe?
For home cooks and the talented ‘foodie,’ you might want to know how to determine the right serving size for homemade items.
Well, it’s pretty easy to learn how to figure out the serving size of a recipe.
- Weigh the cooking container
- Weight the food in the container
- Determine the number of servings
- Divide the food by the number of servings (use the app)
- Find total calories
- Find calories per serving
To begin, weigh the cooking container (empty) before you make anything. Then, make your recipe, and weigh the cooked food/entree when it is finished. Finally, subtract the container weight from the cooked weight to get the final weight of the food.
Decide how many servings you have and divide the final weight of the food by the number of servings.
Now, you can find the total calories. But, again, I prefer to go back to the Lose it! or the Fitness Pal tools. These apps have a tool specifically for recipes (and it’s free).
Enter the ingredients using the recipe as a guide, so you don’t forget anything. Then, divide this number by the number of servings. You can save this information into these apps.
And, now, if someone asks, ‘why are the serving sizes so small?’ you can fix it!
In closing, finding and measuring serving size when you first start can be challenging. But, I promise the more you do it, the easier it will become.
If you’re eating food that comes from a package, be sure to look at the food label. It does get harder to find a serving size without a food label, but you can succeed using the websites and free phone apps I suggested above.
Don’t give up; keep going, and move forward. It will get easier the more you do it!
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Lisa Kimrey is a 30-year veteran registered nurse, speaker, and author of the Bible study, The Self-care Impact: Motivation and Inspiration for Wellness. At Mylifenurse, Lisa writes about simple ways to care for yourself to stay happy, healthy, and rejuvenated while you serve and care for others. Combining her years of nursing expertise with Scripture-based encouragement, Lisa shows readers easy ways to begin and maintain their self-care journey – without feeling guilty. Be sure to grab your FREE Self-care Starter Guide!