Most of us don’t measure portion sizes when we eat, we serve ourselves according to our appetite, liking or disliking of available food, time, servings of ready made meals etc. That’s absolutely fine, and I certainly don’t support weighing food or counting calories, however I believe that a refresh of portion sizes of each food group could be a helpful reminder for all of us.
Remember that having a healthy diet is a matter of balance over a week, not a meal.
Vegetables and Fruits
Yes, I put vegetables first because they are packed with so many nutrients and are so versatile, I am a big fan. Anyway, both vegetables and fruits are amazing sources of vitamins, minerals and dietary fibres, which I will detail in another article. Meanwhile this paper gives you a precise idea of the health benefits.
The common recommendation is to have at least 5 portions of fruit and vegetables per day, preferably at least 3 veg and 2 fruits. However a recent study by Imperial College concluded that the more of you have, the better: the health effects of fruit and veg were greater with an intake of at least 10 portions per day!
Aim at a third to half of your meal/diet made up by fruit and vegetables.
Carbohydrates are found in starchy foods like potatoes (which don’t count as veg), cereals (wheat, oats, buckwheat, tapioca…), rice. It is important to vary the sources of carbohydrates as they don’t provide the same amino acids: try wheat, corn or buckwheat pasta, rice in various forms and varieties, rye bread etc.
Carbohydrates should account for roughly a third of your diet. They provide energy, proteins, fibres when you choose them wholegrain.
A typical serving of raw/uncooked as a main is a handful to a palm of pasta (80-100g), a handful of rice (50-60g), 3 tablespoons of breakfast cereals (30-40g).
Tip: weigh your breakfast cereal serving once for all in your breakfast bowl, make a mental note of it and never think about it again. Likewise you can weigh your or your family’s serving of raw pasta/rice/quinoa, visualise it in a plate/serving dish/your hand.
Free-sugar are carbohydrates, they provide energy and no other nutrients. Adults should have no more than 30g of free sugars a day (roughly 7 sugar cubes)
Proteins come from animal or plant food. We only need 0.5 to 0.8g of protein per kilo each day, for a 70g adult this is 35 to 56g per day. Actually, with our Western diets, it is almost impossible not to meet our daily requirements for proteins, even if you are vegetarian or vegan.
For example, a 100g serving of raw pasta will provide you with 5g of proteins, 2 eggs with 12g, a serving of lentils (50g raw) is 5g etc. Over a day, it quickly adds up to 40-50g of proteins!
Portion sizes can be estimated as follows:
– animal proteins: meat: one portion of meat = a deck of cards, fish = palm of hand, 2 eggs
– plant proteins: 4 tablespoons of lentils/beans/meat alternative
Dairy and dairy alternatives
There is a growing (and interesting) controversy on dairy products, which I will not tackle here. Dairy and dairy alternative provide fats, proteins, minerals such as calcium, phosphorus and iodine and vitamins such as A, D, B2, B12.
A typical portion of dairy drink is a glass (200ml), a pot for yogurt (125g), and for cheese a matchbox (30g).
Fats are essential in a balanced diet, our cells membrane is made of fat and cholesterol, so are some hormones, our brain etc. They are vectors for fat soluble vitamins A, D, E.
Fats are found in most protein foods and added when cooking or serving. The NHS recommends to keep the total daily fat intake under 70g for adults.
Oily fish (trout, salmon, mackerel, sardines ) provide essential fatty acids, the omega-3. It is recommended to have at least 1 portion = palm of hand of oily fish per week.
Likewise, nuts provide mono-unsaturated fats food for your heart, and omega-6. One portion = half a handful per day is advisable.
Generally speaking, one portion of fat (oil, butter, spread) is a fingertip = a teaspoon = 5g.
Avoid trans-fat, prefer healthier and stable fats for cooking such as olive oil and butter.