Psst, You're Probably Eating Too Much. Here's What Servings Should Look Like

October 9, 2015
by Dana Poblete for Thrive Market
Psst, You're Probably Eating Too Much. Here's What Servings Should Look Like

Step into any American restaurant, and as soon as the plate hits the table, it’s evident that our ideas about serving sizes have become distorted over the years.

The concept of serving sizes first originated in in the early 1990s when the Food and Drug Administration first introduced nutrition labels. At the time, these numbers were determined by the average amount of food that Americans ate in one sitting. Fast forward more than 20 years later, and colossal burgers and heaping bowls of linguine are the new normal—and the average American is about 20 pounds heavier.

In the next two years, the FDA will shake things up once again and change these serving sizes on labels to better reflect how much we're really eating. Their aim is to make it easier for consumers to see the nutritional numbers that correspond with what they’re actually going to eat and drink—because after all, it’s unrealistic to assume that people stop after gulping down 3/4 of a 12-ounce bottled drink with a serving size of 8 ounces. (And if that sentence was at all confusing, that's pretty much what Big Food companies are banking on in their bid to get consumers to throw their hands up and just eat.)

Though matching nutrition labels to real life portions makes a lot of sense, there's also plenty of controversy surrounding increasing serving sizes altogether. Some critics say that making serving sizes larger would only give consumers a free pass to eat and drink more—and this hypothesis is backed up by several studies.

It's not a secret—habitual overeating can cause weight gain and can ultimately lead to overweight and obesity, whose deadly side effects include a high risk for heart disease, diabetes, stroke, hypertension, and even some cancers. Portion control can be an effective tool against this epidemic. For some, that's easier said than done, but it all starts with awareness. One trick: Use smaller plates and bowls. Also, consider the USDA’s guidelines for daily recommendations for some of the basic healthy food groups; it’s a great educational resource for plotting out what a balanced diet should look like.

But we get it—numbers, proportions, and mental math can seem like a lot of work when all you want to  know is if a handful of almonds is overkill. We've got you: Here are some visual guides that can help demystify what constitutes moderate portions for nutritious foods, before the concept of serving sizes becomes even more abstract.


Serving sizes of fruit
Daily recommendation: 4 half-cup servings
Single servings:
1/2 small apple
1/2 large orange
1/2 large banana (8 to 9 inches long)
4 large strawberries
¼ cup dried fruit
16 seedless grapes


Serving sizes of vegetables
Daily recommendation: 3 one-cup servings
Single servings:
1 large tomato (3” diameter)
1 large baked sweet potato (2 1/4" or more diameter)
1 heaping handful of most veggies
2 medium whole carrots
2 cups raw greens (including spinach, kale, romaine, watercress, escarole)


Serving sizes of grains
Daily recommendation: 6 to 8 one-ounce servings
Single servings:
1 regular slice of bread
½ cup cooked oatmeal
½ cup cooked pasta or rice
7 square or round crackers
3 cups popped popcorn
(The USDA advises that at least half of all grains eaten should be whole grains.)


Serving sizes of proteins
Daily recommendation: 2 ½ to 3 two-ounce servings per day
Single serving:
1/2 to 3/4 can of tuna
2 eggs
1/2 cup cooked beans
small 2-ounce steak
24 almonds

Photo credit: Alicia Cho

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This article is related to: Fruit, Grains, Nutrition, Protein, USDA, Vegetables, Portion control, FDA

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  • Amanda Van Zetten

    What about dairy servings?

  • Jake Bertz

    Who the fuck anywhere ever in all of human history has eaten a 2oz steak? A starving child that caught a rabbit?

    Without knowing a persons physical makeup and activity level, it's literally impossible to know what their serving size should be.

  • Nikki Ledford

    These recommendations are ridiculous. Just take a look at the pictures of grains vs. fruits and vegetables. You're telling me that I should be consuming more colorless, nutrient poor food than colorful fresh produce? Ugh. USDA has always been a shoddy standin for nutritional advice but it's really discouraging to see Thrive promoting this.

  • Unoriginal

    Remember when fda said we should drink coke?

  • nancystockdale

    You should never EVER have a direct mail, advert, or other title that tells people they "eat too much." There are MILLIONS of people in this country with disordered eating. You just triggered loads of people with that. Learn to promote portion sizes in a way that isn't shaming or triggering.

  • cookcreative

    Boy does Thrive need to learn Paleo 101. 6-8 servings of grains? Are you kidding me?

  • theflyinglizard

    Actually, there is NO evidence that being overweight/obese CAUSES heart disease, etc. Correlation is not causation. Heart disease may be correlated with a larger body size or a higher percentage of body fat, but it's also correlated with male-pattern baldness, and it's obviously ludicrous to suggest that male-pattern baldness causes heart disease. Similarly, there are no studies linking body size or body fat percentage **causally** with heart disease. All we know is that they tend to occur together at a disproportionate rate. Maybe the same people who are genetically predisposed to have bigger bodies are also genetically predisposed to heart disease. Maybe heart disease in larger-bodied people is caused by the stress of living in a fatphobic society, and being fat is actually benign in isolation.

    As for the average American being 20 lbs heavier, the average American is also taller than they were before, and less Caucasian than they were before, and thanks to the Baby Boomers, older than they were before. Each of those factors could explain some additional weight.

    This article does not science.

  • Mihaela

    I'm disappointed ab Thrive promoting so many grains/carbohydrates and so little protein and fat! They need to learn ab the newest studies in Ketogenic: Dr. Dominic D'Agostino's podcast:

  • Keith J Foisy

    Imagine how many rubbermaid/tupperware containers would fill your fridge if you ate 1/2 an apple, 1/2 an orange, 1/2 a banana? The banana thing cracks me up. As long as the banana is 8-9 inches long, then you should only eat 1/2. So if it's 5 inches long, do I save the 1-inch?

    A lot of people below have already said similar comments. Trying to do a "one-size fits all" serving size seems like a good concept, but it's not applicable. Everyone has different needs for their body. The guy who works in landscaping for 10-12 hour days and burns 2,500 calories working needs more fuel than a guy like me who works in an office setting.

    I don't understand how common sense gets completely thrown out when it comes to food. You mentioned colossal burgers in your article. Do thousands of people eat colossal burgers and piles of fries on a daily basis? I've always viewed going out to eat as a treat when you order that colossal burger because it's not something I eat regularly.

  • inawe77

    Nice one guys! How the article on correct meal portion sizes is followed by links to buy chocolate. Duh.

  • moco25

    This makes no sense, for one the visuals don't even show what's stated....16 grapes when they show is 6 or 7 prunes (dried whole plums) equal to 4 strawberries? How is one tomato equal in size/calories to one large sweet potato? How does the same serving size apply to a child, a petite woman and a tall, large guy?

  • Barbara Davis

    I agree with all of the replies here and unless I've missed it, no one mentioned the Paleo lifestyle. Big Ag and Big Pharma continue to work with the USDA to convince us that we must eat grains. Someone mentioned that cow's milk is for baby cows and to that point, grains are for cows, sheep, horses, etc. Early man did not eat grains. That didn't start happening until much later in history when our prey animals started diminishing for whatever reason in any one given area.

  • Nina Ivanchenko

    Absolutely, this is RIDICULOUS!!! How is a physically active person supposed to survive on that??? Especially that LITTLE protein? Are you kidding me?

  • Sylvia Wood

    Count the grapes.

  • newbloomer

    Our portions are a lot larger because we eat whole foods, plant-based. I weigh myself only to be sure that I weigh more than 115 pounds, my normal BMI.