On this page:
- What is the difference between a portion and a serving?
- How have recommended serving sizes changed?
- How much should I eat?
- How can the Nutrition Facts food label help me?
- How can I keep track of how much I eat?
- How can I manage food portions at home?
- How can I manage portions when eating out?
- How can I manage portions and eat well when money is tight?
- Clinical Trials for Weight Management
To reach or stay at a healthy weight, how much you eat is just as important as what you eat. Do you know how much food is enough for you? Do you understand the difference between a portion and a serving? The information below explains portions and servings, and it provides tips to help you eat just enough for you.
To reach or stay at a healthy weight, how much you eat is just as important as what you eat.
What is the difference between a portion and a serving?
A portion is how much food you choose to eat at one time, whether in a restaurant, from a package, or at home. A serving, or serving size, is the amount of food listed on a product’s Nutrition Facts label, or food label (see Figure 1 below).
Different products have different serving sizes. Sizes can be measured in cups, ounces, grams, pieces, slices, or numbers—such as three crackers. Depending on how much you choose to eat, your portion size may or may not match the serving size.
To see how many servings a container has, look at the top of the label. “Servings per container” is listed right above “Serving size.” In the example below, a frozen lasagna serving size is 1 cup. But the container has four servings. If you want to eat 2 cups—or half the package—you’d be eating two servings.
Do a little math to find out how many caloriesyou would really be getting.
- 1 serving = 280 calories
- 2 servings = 280 × 2 = 560 calories
In this case, eating two servings would mean getting twice the calories—and other nutrients—that are listed on the food label.
Figure 1. Nutrition Facts label
How have recommended serving sizes changed?
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) changed some food and beverage serving sizes so the labels more closely match how much we typically eat and drink. As a result of recent updates to the Nutrition Facts label, some serving sizes on food labels may be larger or smaller than they were before (see Figure 2 below). For instance, a serving size of ice cream used to be 1/2 cup. Now it’s 2/3 cup. A serving size of yogurt used to be 8 ounces. Now it’s 6 ounces.
Remember: The serving size on a label is not a recommendation of how much you should eat or drink.
Figure 2. FDA serving size changes
How much should I eat?
The serving size on a food label may be more than or less than the amount you should eat. That’s because how many calories you need each day to maintain your weight or lose weight may depend on
- your age
- your current weight and height
- your metabolism
- whether you’re male or female
- how active you are
For example, if you’re a 150-pound woman whose main physical activity is a short walk once a week, you’ll need fewer calories than a woman about your size who engages in intense physical activity, such as running, several times a week.
To help you figure out how many calories are just enough for you, check out the following resources.
- The Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020–2025 can give you an idea of how many calories you may need each day based on your age, sex, and physical activity level.
- The Body Weight Plannertool helps you make your own calorie and physical activity plans to reach and maintain your goal weight.
- The MyPlate Plan helps you form a healthy eating plan with the amounts of food and beverages that are right for you.
How many calories you need each day depends on your age, weight, metabolism, sex, and physical activity level.
How can the Nutrition Facts food label help me?
The FDA’s Nutrition Facts food label is printed on most packaged foods. The food label tells you how many calories and how much fat, protein, carbohydrates, and other nutrients are in one food serving. Many packaged foods contain more than a single serving. The updated food label lists the number of calories in one serving size using larger print than before, so it is easier to read.
Other helpful facts on the food label
The food label has other useful information about what is in one food serving, such as
- total fat. For example, one serving of the food item shown in Figure 3 below has 1 gram of saturated fatand 0 grams of trans fat.
- added sugars. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020–2025 recommends that less than 10% of your total daily calories should come from added sugars.
- sodium. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020–2025 recommends limiting sodium to 2,300 milligrams per day, or even less for children younger than age 14.
- other nutrients. Americans don’t always get enough vitamin Dand potassium. That’s why the updated food label in Figure 3 includes serving information for both these nutrients. Because most Americans generally do get enough vitamin A and vitamin C, these nutrients are no longer included on the food label. However, food makers may include them if they choose.
Figure 3. Side-by-side comparison of original and new Nutrition Facts labels
Another way to use the Nutrition Facts label
One way to become healthier now and in the future is to use the Nutrition Facts label together with the MyPlate Plan that helps you figure out how many calories you need each day. Using the two together, as shown in Figure 4 below, can help you figure out how many vegetables, fruits, grains, protein foods, and dairy products your body needs.
Figure 4. Nutrition Facts label and MyPlate.gov
How can I keep track of how much I eat?
Checking food labels for calories per serving is one step toward managing your food portions. It’s also important to keep track of
- what you eat
- when you eat
- where you eat
- why you eat
- how much you eat
Create a food tracker on your cellphone, calendar, or computer to record the information. Or you can download apps available for mobile devices to help you track how much you eat—and how much physical activity you get—each day. For example, the Start Simple with MyPlate app tells you how to get started and is free to download and use.
The sample food tracker in Figure 5 below shows what a 1-day page of a food tracker might look like. In the example, the person chose fairly healthy portions for breakfast and lunch to satisfy hunger. The person also ate five cookies in the afternoon out of boredom rather than hunger.
By 8 p.m., the person was very hungry and ate large portions of high-fat, high-calorie food at a social event. An early evening snack of a piece of fruit and 4 ounces of fat-free or low-fat yogurt might have prevented overeating less healthy food later. The number of calories for the day totaled 2,916—more than most people need. Taking in too many calories may lead to weight gain over time.
Figure 5. Sample food tracker
|8 a.m.||Coffee, Black||6 fl. oz.||2||Home||Slightly hungry|
|Low-fat yogurt||1 cup||250|
|1 p.m.||Grilled cheese sandwich||281||Work||Hungry|
|Potato chips||Single-serving bag, 1 ounce||152|
|Water||16 fl. oz.||0|
|3 p.m.||Chocolate-chip cookies||5 medium-sized||345||Work||Not hungry/bored|
|8 p.m.||Mini chicken drumsticks with hot pepper sauce||4||312||Restaurant, while out with friends||Very hungry|
|Taco salad||3 cups in fried flour tortilla with beans and cheese||586|
|Chocolate cheesecake||1 piece, 1/12 of 9-inch cake||479|
|Soft drink||12 fl. oz.||136|
|Latte||Espresso coffee with whole milk, 16 ounces||196|
|Total Calories =||2,916|
If you find that you eat even when you’re not hungry, like the person in the food tracker example, try distracting yourself from food by doing something else instead. For instance,
- call or visit a friend
- if at work, take a break and walk around the block, if your work and schedule permit
- try a healthier option, such as a piece of fruit, a handful of nuts, or carrot sticks and hummus
Using your tracker, you may become aware of when and why you consume less healthy foods and drinks. This information may help you make different choices in the future.
How can I manage food portions at home?
You don’t need to measure and count everything you eat or drink for the rest of your life. You may only want to do so long enough to learn typical serving and portion sizes. Try these tips to control portions at home.
- Take one serving according to the food label and eat it off a plate instead of straight out of the box or bag.
- Avoid eating in front of the TV, while driving or walking, or while you are busy with other activities.
- Focus on what you are eating, chew your food well, and fully enjoy the smell and taste of your food.
- Eat slowly so your brain has time to realize your stomach is full, which may take at least 15 minutes.
- Use smaller dishes, bowls, and glasses so you eat and drink less.
- Eat fewer high-fat, high-calorie foods, such as desserts, chips, sauces, and prepackaged snacks.
- Freeze food you won’t serve or eat right away if you make too much. That way, you won’t be tempted to finish the whole batch. If you freeze leftovers in single- or family-sized servings, you’ll have ready-made meals for another day.
- Eat meals at regular times. Delaying meals or skipping meals altogether may cause you to overeat later in the day.
- Buy snacks, such as fruit or single-serving prepackaged foods that are lower in calories. If you buy bigger bags or boxes of snacks, divide the items into single-serving packages right away so you aren’t tempted to overeat.
A family sharing a meal around a dinner table.
How can I manage portions when eating out?
Although it may be easier to manage your portions when you cook and eat at home, most people eat out from time to time—and some people eat out often. Try these tips to keep your food portions in check when you’re away from home.
- Share a meal with a friend or take half your meal home.
- Avoid all-you-can-eat buffets. Instead, choose restaurants that offer some healthy food choices in controlled portions.
- Order one or two healthy appetizers or side dishes instead of a whole meal. Options include steamed or grilled—instead of fried—seafood or chicken, a salad with dressing on the side, or roasted vegetables.
- Ask to have the basket of bread or chips removed from the table.
- If you have a choice, pick the small-sized—rather than large-sized—drink, salad, or frozen yogurt.
- Look for calorie information next to food and drink items on menus and menu boards to understand how many calories are in a standard restaurant portion.
- Stop eating and drinking when you’re full. Put down your fork and glass. Focus on enjoying the setting and company for the rest of the meal.
A salad of black beans, avocado, corn, tomato, rice, and quinoa.
Is getting more food for your money always a good value?
Have you noticed that it costs only a few cents more to get the large fries or soda instead of the regular or small size? Although getting the super-sized meal for a little extra money may seem like a good deal, you end up with more calories than you need for your body to stay healthy. Before you buy your next “value meal combo,” be sure you are making the best choice for your wallet and your health.
How can I manage portions and eat well when money is tight?
Eating healthier doesn’t have to cost a lot of money. For instance,
- Buy fresh fruit and vegetables when they are in season. Check out a local farmers market for fresh, local produce if there is one in your community. Be sure to compare prices, as produce at some farmers markets cost more than the grocery store. Buy only as much as you will use to avoid throwing away spoiled food.
- Match portion sizes to serving sizes. To get the most from the money you spend on packaged foods, try eating no more than the serving sizes listed on food labels. Eating no more than a serving size may also help you better manage your fat, sugar, salt, and calories.
- When eating in a restaurant, ask for meals to be served “family style.” You can order three meals to serve five people, and everyone can taste a portion of each dish.
Clinical Trials for Weight Management
The NIDDK conducts and supports clinical trials in many diseases and conditions, including weight management. The trials look to find new ways to prevent, detect, or treat disease and improve quality of life.
What are clinical trials for weight management?
Clinical trials—and other types of clinical studies—are part of medical research and involve people like you. When you volunteer to take part in a clinical study, you help doctors and researchers learn more about disease and improve health care for people in the future.
Watch a video of NIDDK Director Dr. Griffin P. Rodgers explaining the importance of participating in clinical trials.
What clinical studies for weight management are looking for participants?
You can find clinical studies on weight management at www.ClinicalTrials.gov. In addition to searching for federally funded studies, you can expand or narrow your search to include clinical studies from industry, universities, and individuals; however, the National Institutes of Health does not review these studies and cannot ensure they are safe. Always talk with your health care provider before you participate in a clinical study.
A portion is how much food you choose to eat at one time, whether in a restaurant, from a package, or at home. A serving, or serving size , is the amount of food listed on a product's Nutrition Facts label, or food label (see Figure 1 below). Different products have different serving sizes.How do you guess food portions? ›
- One serving of meat or poultry is the palm of your hand or a deck of cards.
- One 3-ounce (84 grams) serving of fish is a checkbook.
- One-half cup (40 grams) of ice cream is a tennis ball.
- One serving of cheese is a pair of dice.
The top-ranked reasons for paying attention to portion sizes are to help control weight (36% ranked in top 2) and to help avoid eating too much of certain foods (30%).Do you think we should have enough food to eat? ›
When you don't eat enough food according to your body and age you don't get sufficient energy that is required by the body to perform the functioning. All this results in fatigue, which adversely affects the body mass, weight and overall metabolism as well.What counts as a portion? ›
A portion is the amount of a food that you eat at one time, for example how much food you put on your plate at a meal or how much is in a packet.What's the difference between a serving and a portion? ›
A portion is the amount of food that you choose to eat for a meal or snack. It can be big or small, you decide. A serving is a measured amount of food or drink, such as one slice of bread or one cup (eight ounces) of milk.What portions should I eat to lose weight? ›
- 1 1/2 - 2 1/2 cups of fruit and 2 1/2 - 3 1/2 cups of vegetables.
- 6-10 ounces of grain, 1/2 from whole grains.
- 3 cups of nonfat or low-fat dairy foods.
- 5-7 ounces of protein (meat, beans, and seafood) each day.
- No more than 5-8 teaspoons of oils, mostly from plants, fish, and nuts.
Adult females need anywhere from 1,600 to 2,400 calories a day and adult males need anywhere from 2,000 to 3,000 calories a day, according to the USDA's latest “Dietary Guidelines for Americans” report released in 2020. Daily calorie needs for toddlers younger than 2 falls between 700 and 1,000 calories.Why you should pay attention to what you eat? ›
The food guide says mindful eating can help you make healthier choices, be more conscious of the food you eat and your eating habits, and make positive changes to your eating behaviours. Incorporating different flavours and trying new dishes can add enjoyment to your eating.What is the most important part of portion control? ›
The most important part of portion control (and the easiest to implement) is using the right measuring tools. We're talking cups, spoons, ladles or even scoops and scales where necessary. All of these tips will go to waste if your kitchen staff isn't on board.
Some of the benefits of portion control include waste minimization, controlled food costs, optimal apportionment and nutritional need augmentation.Why is it important to eat enough? ›
A well-balanced diet provides all of the: energy you need to keep active throughout the day. nutrients you need for growth and repair, helping you to stay strong and healthy and help to prevent diet-related illness, such as some cancers.Is it more important what you eat or how much? ›
Counting calories obsessively is not the key to trimming your waistline, according to a new study published Tuesday in JAMA. The study, from Stanford University researchers, found that paying attention to what you eat is more important than focusing on how much.How much food is not enough? ›
Conventional wisdom says the average woman shouldn't eat fewer than 1,200 calories per day and the average man shouldn't eat fewer than 1,500. But these levels are essentially a calorie deficit. The bare minimum is not sustainable. And for many, it's not healthy.What does 1 portion look like? ›
A portion size is the amount of food or drink you consume in one sitting. It could be a large amount or a small amount; exactly one serving size, like a slice of bread, or several times that, like a bottle of fruit smoothie that says it contains two servings.What should you eat in a day? ›
- eat at least 5 portions of a variety of fruit and vegetables every day (see 5 A Day)
- base meals on higher fibre starchy foods like potatoes, bread, rice or pasta.
- have some dairy or dairy alternatives (such as soya drinks)
- eat some beans, pulses, fish, eggs, meat and other protein.
For salad and other raw greens, aim for portions that equal about two baseballs. With cooked vegetables like broccoli, each portion should be the size of about one baseball.How many ounces of food should I eat per meal? ›
Males ages 19 to 30: 8 ounce equivalents per day. Females ages 19 to 30: 6 ounce equivalents per day. Examples of 1 ounce equivalent: 1 slice of bread, 1 cup of ready-to-eat cereal, or ½ cup of cooked rice, cooked pasta or cooked cereal.What is 1 cup serving size? ›
1 cup is the amount that fits in a mounded pile in the palm of a medium adult hand or about the size of a tennis ball. It provides approximately 200 calories and 50 grams of carbohydrates.What is mindful eating? ›
Mindful eating focuses on your eating experiences, body-related sensations, and thoughts and feelings about food, with heightened awareness and without judgment. Attention is paid to the foods being chosen, internal and external physical cues, and your responses to those cues. [
2. Myth or Fact: If you cut down on your food intake, you'll eventually shrink your stomach so you won't be as hungry. Answer: Myth. Once you are an adult, your stomach pretty much remains the same size -- unless you have surgery to intentionally make it smaller.How many meals a day to lose belly fat? ›
According to many experts, eating breakfast jump starts fat burning and 5–6 small meals per day prevent your metabolism from slowing down.How many meals should I eat to lose belly fat? ›
Rather than going for three to four high-calorie meals in a day, one should eat every four hours to shape your belly.How many calories should I eat a day to lose weight? ›
For example, to lose 1 to 2 pounds a week — a rate that experts consider safe — your food consumption should provide 500 to 1,000 calories less than your total weight-maintenance calories. If you need 2,325 calories a day to maintain your current weight, reduce your daily calories to between 1,325 and 1,825.What are the 4 methods of portion control? ›
- Use a smaller plate. A standard-sized portion will look small on a larger plate, making you feel dissatisfied. ...
- Don't double your carbs. ...
- Give measuring cups a go. ...
- Be selective with your seconds. ...
- Don't pick at leftovers. ...
- 20-minute rule. ...
- Check food labels. ...
- Ask for less.
Rather than hoping for the best, visually divide your plate into three sections: half for fruits and veggies, one quarter for protein and the other quarter for grains. Try out some of these healthy recipes if you're not sure where to get started.How much should I eat according to my age? ›
|Female||4-8 9-13 14-18 19-30 31-50 51+||1,400-1,800 1,800-2,200 2,400 2,400 2,200 2,200|
|Male||4-8 9-13 14-18 19-30 31-50 51+||1,600-2,000 2,000-2,600 2,800-3,200 3,000 2,800-3,000 2,400-2,800|
|Age||Daily calorie requirements|
|19–30 years||1,800–2,400 calories|
|31–60 years||1,600–2,200 calories|
|61+ years||1,600–2,000 calories|
Health experts advise against eating a full or heavy meal near bedtime. Consuming a large meal so close to sleeping can affect digestion and sleep quality. Over time, consuming most of a person's daily food intake late in the day can also lead to obesity.Is it true that you are what you eat? ›
In a literal sense, we all can agree that it's true that 'you are what you eat'. Nutrients from the foods we eat provide the foundation of the structure, function, and wholeness of every little cell in our body, from the skin and hair to the muscles, bones, digestive and immune systems.
It's normal to feel an urge to eat when you're bored, even on a regular basis. Yet, if boredom eating is affecting your mental or physical health with side effects like weight gain and anxiety, you may be looking for a way to stop. In that case, some of these tips to address boredom eating could work for you.Why does boredom make you want to eat? ›
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter in our brain that's strongly tied with feelings of reward and pleasure. When we're bored, our brains aren't stimulated, and this causes our dopamine levels to drop. This triggers us to take an action that will bring it back up, such as eating.Does portion size matter? ›
Size matters. Research has shown that people consistently eat more food when offered larger portions. So portion control is important when you're trying to lose weight and keep it off. A portion is the amount of food you put on your plate, while a serving is an exact amount of food.What happens when you eat smaller portions? ›
Studies show that having 4-5 small meals a day can improve overall metabolism making it easier to manage body weight. Less frequent large meals are linked to weight gain and a slower metabolism. Dr. Praeger's takes the science behind nutrition into consideration when creating our products and their portions sizes.What are the benefits of portion? ›
Serving control can help you improve your digestive system by not overloading it with lots of food every meal. You will eliminate stomach pain and cramps and decrease weight gain, not only because the portions will become less, but also because your digestive system will function better.What are the types of portion control? ›
Some of the most common tools include portion scales, food dishers, spoodles, and other types of spoons. Even everyday kitchen supplies, like measuring cups and ladles, are great tools for controlling portions.What is the objective of portion control? ›
The main objective of portion control is to ensure that desired portions, usually specified by weight, are placed in the packages. In can-filling in particular, an optimal goal would be to minimize underfilling and overfilling.What is the importance of portion scale? ›
The portion scales are tasked with optimizing portioning procedures, to accelerate them and to facilitate them. Therefore the portion scales function as controlling systems during which the detected weight is crucial.Is eating too much better than eating too little? ›
Overeating can cause discomfort in the short-term but eating too much long-term can lead to weight gain, along with other metabolic issues such as insulin and leptin resistance, high triglycerides and increased risk for obesity and diabetes.What happens to your body when you don't eat? ›
Low blood sugar causes people to feel irritable, confused and fatigued. The body begins to increase production of cortisol, leaving us stressed and hangry. Skipping meals can also cause your metabolism to slow down, which can cause weight gain or make it harder to lose weight.
It can also help lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels. But some research has shown that eating smaller, more frequent meals may have added health benefits, as well. Smaller meals are less likely to cause a big bump in the blood sugar levels that follow a big meal. Cholesterol levels also tend to be lower.Is it better to eat less or eat more? ›
Aim for a slow, steady weight loss by decreasing calorie intake while maintaining an adequate nutrient intake and increasing physical activity. You can cut calories without eating less nutritious food. The key is to eat foods that will fill you up without eating a large amount of calories.Does the amount of food you eat matter? ›
You can't gain weight without eating too many calories or lose weight without eating fewer calories (assuming your activity level stays the same). But what you eat is equally important because some foods are easier to overeat than others.Does the amount of food matter? ›
Portion size does matter and affects how much food you consume. Just cutting serving size, however, may lead to hunger and overeating later. Choosing lower calorie dense foods can help reduce overall calorie intake.How much food is too little per day? ›
Restricting intake to fewer than 1,000 calories daily can slow down your metabolic rate and lead to fatigue since you're not taking in enough calories to support the basic functions that keep you alive.How do you know if you're eating enough food? ›
- Anxiety and depression. “Studies have shown that not eating enough can cause prolonged periods of anxiety and depression in teens and adults,” says Beal.
- Being underweight. ...
- Constipation. ...
- Difficulty losing weight. ...
- Fatigue. ...
- Feeling cold. ...
- Frequently feeling hungry. ...
- Hair loss.
So, what happens to your body when you overeat? Overeating causes the stomach to expand beyond its normal size to adjust to the large amount of food. The expanded stomach pushes against other organs, making you uncomfortable. This discomfort can take the form of feeling tired, sluggish or drowsy.What is it called when you eat the right amount of food? ›
Eating a healthy, balanced diet is an important part of maintaining good health, and can help you feel your best. This means eating a wide variety of foods in the right proportions, and consuming the right amount of food and drink to achieve and maintain a healthy body weight.Why are portion sizes a problem? ›
"One way to keep calories in check is to keep food portions no larger than the size of your fist." Larger portions mean more calories, which can easily add up to extra weight.Why is the amount of food you choose important? ›
Eating a wide variety of healthy foods helps to keep you in good health and protects you against chronic disease. Eating a well-balanced diet means eating a variety of foods from each of the 5 food groups daily, in the recommended amounts. It is also important to choose a variety of foods from within each food group.
Bulimia and your actions
If you experience bulimia, you might: eat lots of food in one go (binge) go through daily cycles of eating, feeling guilty, purging, feeling hungry and eating again.
Polyphagia, also called hyperphagia, is the medical term for a feeling of extreme, insatiable hunger.What is it called when you don't eat a lot of food? ›
Overview. Anorexia is a general loss of appetite or a loss of interest in food.What is the correct portion size for adults? ›
1 1/2 - 2 1/2 cups of fruit and 2 1/2 - 3 1/2 cups of vegetables. 6-10 ounces of grain, 1/2 from whole grains. 3 cups of nonfat or low-fat dairy foods. 5-7 ounces of protein (meat, beans, and seafood) each day.Will I lose weight if I eat smaller portions? ›
Portion control should be viewed as a lifestyle. While you can expect to lose weight if you begin cutting down your portions, you must consistently eat smaller portions of higher calorie foods to keep extra weight gone for good.Why are American portions so big? ›
Farmers were able to grow food more cheaply by using fertilizer, pesticides and herbicides. In the 1970s, the government began subsidizing farmers to grow more food. Over time, companies have increased their serving sizes to increase their profits, and we all caught on.Why can I only eat small portions? ›
Early satiety occurs when you are unable to eat a full meal, or you feel very full after eating only a small amount of food. Early satiety is usually caused by gastroparesis, a condition in which your stomach is slow to empty. Other causes of early satiety include: An obstruction.Why can't I eat small portions? ›
Early satiety is the inability to eat a full meal or feeling full after only a small amount of food. This is most likely due to gastroparesis, a condition in which the stomach is slow to empty.