Finally, An Easy-to-Follow Guide to Healthy Portion Sizes

Woman eating large raisin roll while sitting at sidewalk cafe
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Have a lot on your plate? Pairing down your portions is the easiest way to stay fit — and, major key, continue to eat everything you love. Follow this portion size guide to do learn how to do just that.

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Your Guide to Healthy Portion Sizes

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Think healthy portion sizes don't matter? Think again: Since the late '70s, Americans have added 570 calories a day to their diets, and half of them can be attributed to less-than-healthy portion sizes according to research at the University of North Carolina.

"Even though today's serving sizes can be more than triple what the USDA recommends, they've become our new normal, and anything smaller can seem puny by comparison," says Lisa R. Young, Ph.D., R.D., registered dietitian and the author of The Portion Teller Plan.

Fortunately, having strong visual aids for healthy portion sizes can go a long way toward helping you shift your mindset. Once you know what healthy portion sizes look like, selecting them will become second nature. The best part? You can reconfigure your plate without giving up the foods you love.

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Standard size: 22 ounces

Healthy portion size: 8 ounces

Even the smallest size at most smoothie shops is often double the amount you're supposed to sip. And a large can contain 40 ounces and 1,000-plus calories. Pass up the juice bar and bring your own recovery drink to the gym. "I like store-bought smoothies, such as Dannon DanActive Probiotic Dailies or Oikos Greek Nonfat Yogurt Drinks," says Tanya Zuckerbrot, R.D., author of The F-Factor Diet. At home, make your own calorie-smart smoothie by blending three-quarters of a cup of milk with a half cup of frozen fruit and half a banana.

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Standard size: 3 cups, cooked

Healthy portion size: 1 cup, cooked

Many restaurants, including Olive Garden and BJ's, offer lunch- or half-size portions. Don't see a smaller serving on the menu? "Ask to be given just one cup of pasta and have the rest boxed up before it's brought to the table," suggests Marge Condrasky, R.D., a culinary educator and professor at Clemson University. "Special requests are pretty standard nowadays, and most servers are happy to accommodate them."

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Potato Chips


Standard size: 2 ounces

Healthy portion size: 1 ounce

"Snack sizes are often twice as big as they were 30 years ago," says Michael Jacobson, Ph.D., the executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest. "And even though the labels on the bags may say they serve two or more, many people polish off the entire contents themselves." One of the most popular snacks, potato chips, may contribute more to long-term weight gain than many other foods or drinks: A study in the New England Journal of Medicine found that for every additional serving of chips a person consumes daily, they gain nearly two pounds every four years.

Choose popped or puffed snacks — both offer that crave-able crunch — as opposed to fried chips to get more bang (about 23 crisps vs. 13) for your metaphorical buck. If you prefer the classic version, opt for a one-ounce package or split a bigger bag with a buddy for a healthy portion size hack.

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Standard size: 12 ounces, cooked

Healthy portion size: 3 ounces, cooked

When it comes to beef, seemingly most chefs have had a bigger-is-better mentality: Almost half of those surveyed by researchers at Clemson University and Pennsylvania State University admitted to serving 12-ounce strip steaks — more than double the amount of meat you should eat in a day.

"A lot of chains now offer 6-ounce sirloin steaks or filets that cook down to about four and a half ounces and clock in at 350 calories," says Young. Shave 50 to 100 calories off that number by asking the server to have yours made with very little or no butter brushed on top.

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Ice Cream


Standard size: 1 cup

Healthy portion size: 1/2 cup

If you're indulging in premium ice cream, the eat-the-pint mentality can be the caloric equivalent of a double cheeseburger, plus a whopping 20 grams of saturated fat — nearly your daily maximum. When it comes to healthy portion sizes of ice cream, dish out a single serving and use a small bowl and spoon. A study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine found that doing so could shrink your helping of rocky road by about 30 percent. At the ice cream parlor, get a cup or a cone with a single scoop rather than a sundae or milkshake, which can contain roughly 1,400 to 1,700 calories. (As for all those good-for-you ice creams at the market? These are the best healthy ice cream brands you can buy.)

That all being said, it's important to remember that having a few extra scoops when you're craving them is totally okay — no matter what this portion size guide might recommend.

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White Rice

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Standard size: 2 cups, cooked

Healthy portion size: 1/2 cup, cooked

Order takeout from a Chinese restaurant and your side of steamed rice will contain 400 to 500 (mostly) empty calories. Not only can it crimp your progress toward meeting health goals, but it can also raise your risk of type 2 diabetes. In fact, eating five or more servings of white rice a week can up your chance of getting the disease by 17 percent, according to researchers at Harvard School of Public Health.

Switch to brown rice, which contains six times as much fiber as the refined version. And use a measuring cup to get an accurate sense of how much you're really eating, advises Young. When you're dining out, scoop a healthy portion size of rice that's half the size of a tennis ball and leave the rest in the serving dish.

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Salad Dressing

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Standard size: 4 tablespoons

Healthy portion size: 2 tablespoons

"Chefs are notorious for drowning your greens in dressing, which can add 300 to 400 calories and dozens of grams of fat to an otherwise healthy dish," says Zuckerbrot. Even if you order your dressing on the side, a standard restaurant ramekin or to-go pouch of ranch, Thousand Island, or Caesar contains twice the amount you should be putting on your salad.

If your greens feels too dry with just 2 tablespoons of dressing, ask your server for balsamic vinegar or a lemon wedge you can squeeze over it. "You'll be surprised at how much flavor these minimal-calorie toppers add," says Zuckerbrot. (

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Chicken Breasts

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Standard size: 6 ounces, cooked

Healthy portion size: 3 ounces, cooked

Many folks tend to think of boneless, skinless chicken breasts as the ultimate diet food, so it's easy to overlook the fact that many are now two and a half times bigger than they used to be. "We assume that whatever comes in the package is the right amount," says Young. "But some four-pound family packs of chicken, which should actually serve 16 people, contain just six breasts."

Look for labels that say "thin-cut" or "thin-sliced." These chicken breasts tend to be sold in 4-ounce portions, hitting the USDA-recommended 3-ounce mark once they're cooked. Or make your own healthy portion size by splitting the chicken breasts sold in regular packs; simply use a sharp kitchen knife to slice each one in half lengthwise.

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Standard size: 7 1/2 ounces

Healthy portion size: 5 1/2 ounces

Mixed drinks frequently contain 42 percent more alcohol than a standard one-shot drink, according to a study in the journal Drug and Alcohol Review. "We're likelier to tip well if we're served a generously poured cocktail, and bartenders are banking on that," says Zuckerbrot. "But what you're really getting is a little more alcohol and a lot of sugary, high-calorie mixer, which makes the hard stuff go down so easily that you're ready for another glass sooner."

Switch to beer, wine, or liquor on the rocks (with just a splash of juice or club soda), all of which bartenders are less likely to overpour. "By not diluting your alcohol with sugary add-ins that mask the taste, you're more likely to sip it slowly rather than guzzle it," says Zuckerbrot. At home, use a shot glass to ensure you're serving yourself a healthy portion size. (See also: The Definitive *Truth* About Red Wine Health Benefits)

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Standard size: 4 1/2 inches

Healthy portion size: 2 1/2 inches

Would you start your day with six or seven slices of white bread? "That's the calorie equivalent of a bagel at most chains," says Zuckerbrot. "And that's before it's slathered with cream cheese or butter."

Seek out "thin" bagels at the bakery or grocery store, split one with a friend, or just go for one half. But, hey, if leaving one side of your bagel solo sounds nearly impossible, then you can might consider scooping out the insides to cut back on sugar-rich simple carbs. Whole grain options are also a good idea, as they provide more fiber, filling you up faster and keeping you full for longer. (Up next: 10 Healthy Foods to Always Have on Your Grocery List)

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