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Healthy Weight Loss Tips

Dietary Guidelines Quantities Key

By describing servings in familiar household measurements such as cups and ounces, the Dietary Guidelines have resolved a major source of consumer confusion. The previous guidelines talked about numbers of servings, but it wasn't clear what constituted a serving. Now the Guidelines say to eat two cups of fruit. No more guessing about how much makes a serving and how many servings you should eat.

Dietary Guidelines Quantities Key


The following are equivalents to the quantities recommended in the Guidelines:

Vegetables and fruits

One-half cup of fruit or vegetables is equivalent to:

  • 1/2 cup cut-up raw or cooked fruit or vegetable
  • 1/2 cup fruit or vegetable juice
  • 1 cup leafy salad greens


One ounce-equivalent is the same as:

  • 1/2 cup cooked rice or pasta or cooked cereal
  • 1 cup cereal flakes
  • 1 slice bread
  • 1 very small muffin (1 ounce)
  • 1 ounce dry pasta or rice


One cup milk is equivalent to:

  • 1 cup milk, yogurt, or fortified soy milk
  • 1-1/2 ounces natural cheese such as Cheddar
  • 2 ounces processed cheese

Meat and Beans

One ounce-equivalent is the same as:

  • 1 ounce lean meat, poultry, or fish
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup cooked dry beans or tofu (count as a protein or vegetable, not both)
  • 1 tablespoon peanut butter
  • 1/2 ounce nuts or seeds


One teaspoon equivalent is:

  • 1 teaspoon soft margarine
  • 1 tablespoon low-fat mayonnaise
  • 2 tablespoons light salad dressing
  • 1 teaspoon vegetable oil

All cooking oils plus soft margarines that do not contain any trans fats are included in this category. Because these oils contain vitamin E and essential fatty acids, they are not part of the discretionary calorie allowance below.

Serving Size Guide

If you're away from home and can't measure your food, these will help you estimate portion size.

  • 1 cup is about the size of a baseball or tennis ball
  • 1/2 cup is about the size of 1/2 of a baseball or tennis ball
  • 2 tablespoons is about the size of a ping-pong ball
  • 1 teaspoon is about the size of one die
  • 1-1/2 ounces of cheese is about the size of 6 stacked dice
  • 3 ounces of meat, fish, or poultry is about the size and thickness of a deck of cards
  • 1 medium potato or other fruit or vegetable is about the size of a medium adult fist

Discretionary Calories

The allowance for discretionary calories will depend on the specific calorie-level eating plan you are following. Check the label for the number of grams of sugar listed. The same goes for fat; check the labels of food products for the number of grams of fat.


The Guidelines recommend a maximum intake of 1 drink per day for women and 2 drinks per day for men (see "Alcoholic Beverage Guidelines" below). One serving is equivalent to:

  • 1.5 fluid ounces of 80-proof distilled spirits
  • 5 fluid ounces of wine
  • 12 fluid ounces of beer

Once you've totaled your consumption over a multiday period, it is time to analyze your diet inventory. The next section will focus on interpreting what all the data you've collected really means.

Alcoholic Beverage Guidelines

Alcohol contains no nutrients, so it is not listed in the food pattern guide. What alcohol does have, however, is calories -- lots of them. Each gram of alcohol provides 7 calories, just 2 less than fat. Alcoholic beverages, then, should be counted as part of your discretionary calorie allowance.

As you can see from the chart below, which shows the typical amount of calories in various alcoholic beverages, one or two drinks can blow your discretionary calorie allowance. Cocktails or mixed drinks contain other high-calorie ingredients, such as tonic water, fruit juice, cream, and sweetened soft drinks, that up the calorie count and can send you way over your discretionary calorie budget. Alcohol is well-known for decreasing one's resistance to food, so chances are good that while you're drinking, you're also eating, and drink accompaniments are more likely to be high fat than high fiber.

However, since studies show that moderate alcohol consumption may help reduce heart attacks and strokes, the Dietary Guidelines do address it. The Guidelines define moderation as 1 drink per day for women and 2 drinks per day for men. This is not intended to be an average over several days but rather the amount consumed on any single day. Excessive intake of alcoholic beverages is dangerous, carries with it many health risks, and will sabotage your weight-loss plan -- so stick to moderation if you decide to drink at all -- and never drink during pregnancy or while operating motorized machinery.

This table is a guide to estimate the caloric intake from various alcoholic beverages. An example serving volume and the calories in that drink are shown for beer, wine, and distilled spirits. Higher alcohol content (higher percent alcohol or higher proof) and mixing alcohol with other beverages, such as calorically sweetened soft drinks, tonic water, fruit juice, or cream, increases the amount of calories in the beverage. Alcoholic beverages supply calories but provide few essential nutrients.


Beer (12 oz.)

  • 144 calories

Light Beer (12 oz.)

  • 108 calories

White Wine (5 oz.)

  • 100 calories

Red Wine (5 oz.)

  • 105 calories

Sweet Wine (3 oz.)

  • 141 calories

80 proof distilled spirits: gin, rum, vodka, whiskey (1.5 oz.)

  • 96 Calories

Source: Agricultural Research Service (ARS) Nutrient Database for Standard Reference (SR), Release 17. Calories are calculated to the nearest whole number per 1 fluid oz.

The total calories and alcohol content vary depending on the brand. Moreover, adding mixers to an alcoholic beverage can contribute calories in addition to the calories from the alcohol itself.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.