What counts as a serving of food?

measuring bowls
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Do you know how much food equals a serving size?

One of the keys to planning a heart-healthy diet and maintaining a healthy weight is to pay attention to how much you eat. To help, the government has devised a list of standard serving sizes and a set of guidelines for how many servings you should eat from each food group each day.

This table describes the standard serving size for many types of food.

Type of Food Serving Size
Meat, poultry, fish, beans, eggs, and nuts 2 to 3 oz. cooked, which is about the size of:
  • half a chicken breast without skin
  • 1 chicken leg and thigh without skin
  • 2 slices of roast beef
  • 1 medium loin pork chop
  • 1 cup of cooked, dry beans
  • 4 Tbsp. of peanut butter
  • 1 small hamburger patty
  • 1/2 cup tuna, canned in water
  • 2 eggs
  • 8 to 12 large shrimp
Nonstarchy vegetables, such as carrots, broccoli, and lettuce
  • 1/2 cup cooked
  • 1 cup raw
Starchy vegetables, such as potatoes, beans, and squash
  • 1/2 cup corn
  • 1 small baking potato
  • 1/2 cup peas, lentils, or beans
  • 1/3 cup sweet potato or yam
  • 3/4 cup winter squash
  • 1 apple, banana, orange, or peach
  • 3 apricots
  • 12 sweet cherries
  • 1½ dried figs
  • 3 prunes
  • 1½ cups cubed watermelon
  • 1/2 cup canned fruit
  • 3/4 cup fruit juice
  • 1/8 avocado
  • 1½-oz. low-fat or nonfat cube
  • 1/2 cup low-fat or nonfat ricotta cheese
  • 1 Tbsp. grated low-fat or nonfat cheese
  • 1 cup low-fat or nonfat milk
  • 1 cup low-fat or nonfat yogurt
  • 1/2 bagel
  • 2 bread sticks
  • 1 slice bread
  • 1 roll
  • 1/2 English muffin
  • 1 6-inch tortilla
  • 1 oz. dry breakfast cereal, or about 1 cup of cereal flakes
  • 1/2 cup cooked cereal, such as oatmeal
  • 1/2 cup cooked
  • 1/2 cup cooked
Oil or spread
  • 1 tsp. safflower, olive, or canola oil
  • 1 tsp. margarine, butter, or shortening
  • 2 tsp. mayonnaise
Salad dressing
  • 1 Tbsp. low-fat or nonfat French, Italian, or Thousand Island dressing

Serving Sizes on Food Packages

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The serving size listed on nutrition labels aren't necessarily the standard serving sizes.

The serving size listed on the food package is not necessarily the same as the standard serving size. Most packaged foods have to carry a Nutrition Facts label, listing a typical serving size. But this typical serving size may not match the government's standard serving sizes - and it may not be the same as the amount you eat or your portion size. Sometimes the serving sizes on labels are not very realistic. You may want to print the chart of standard serving sizes and post it on your refrigerator. Then you can compare it against your food labels for a realistic idea of how much you're eating.

Here's what you need to remember about the serving sizes on food packages: All the nutrition information on the label, such as the amount of fat in the food, is based on the serving size listed on the label. Let's say the label claims that 1 serving is equal to 1 cup and that 1 serving contains 3 grams of fat. If you eat 2 cups, you've eaten 2 servings and 6 grams of fat. This doesn't mean you shouldn't have 2 servings; it just means that you need to take both servings into account. You need to understand that you ate 6 grams of fat rather than 3 grams. This way, you can plan the rest of your meals accordingly and not go over the amount of fat you should eat in a day.

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