This is how experts think you should portion your food – and it might surprise you
Even if you’re not the kind of person who resolved to overhaul their diet in the new year, January is still a good opportunity to think about how healthy your lifestyle is.
With this in mind, it’s the perfect time for experts to remind us how we should best portion our food – which is exactly what the British Nutrition Foundation (BNF) has done with its new guide called Find Your Balance.
The BNF wants you to know that what you eat is important, but also how you eat it. Here’s everything you need to know about portion sizes…
Fruit and veg
Find Your Balance has been created with the Government’s Eatwell guide in mind, which suggests how many portions of each food group you should be having every day.
For fruit and veg, you should be aiming for five or more – and there’s really no need to worry too much about size, because the BNF says “you can have bigger portions of fruit and vegetables, as they’re mostly low in calories, provided there’s no fat or sugar added”.
Yes, this means juice counts – but only one portion a day, and just a small glass of 150ml.
It’s recommended to eat around three to four portions of starchy carbs a day. Let’s face it – no one can really be bothered to weigh out their food, so it’s hard to actually know how much you’re eating.
This is why the BNF has introduced a visual system, where you can use your hands to get a good idea of how much you should be eating. For lighter meals and breakfasts (under 200kcal), one portion of breakfast cereals or muesli tends to be about three handfuls, and porridge one and a half. Things like bread are already ready portioned, and two slices of medium-sized wholegrain will do the trick.
For main meals (over 200kcal), it recommends around two handfuls of things like dried pasta, rice and cous cous – for cooked versions, it’s the amount of two hands cupped together. Fun tip for spaghetti – use your finger and thumb to measure a bunch the size of a £1 coin. Considering how oddly difficult it is to measure any type of pasta and not get it hugely wrong, this is pretty handy.
And, not strictly portion advice, but a tip to be more healthy – go for wholemeal versions where possible, and keep the skins on potatoes for that extra boost of fibre.
Even though protein might be Instagram’s favourite food group, the NHS still recommends just two to three portions a day.
Chicken breasts should measure half the size of your hand (which means different-sized people should eat different-sized portions), and fish fillets can be between half the size of a hand and a whole hand. If you want vegetarian versions, go for around six tablespoons of lentils, beans and pulses, or two eggs.
For a protein-rich snack, eat the amount of nuts and seeds that will fit into your palm.
The recommendation for dairy is also two to three portions a day. We don’t advise measuring things like milk or yogurt with your hands – that would definitely end up being quite messy. It’s worth looking up the BNF’s individual recommendations – for example, half a glass of milk on cereal, a whole glass if you’re drinking it, and four tablespoons of plain, low-fat yogurt are ideal.
It’s easier to measure cheese, but a whole lot less fun when you see what the recommendations are. After a Christmas spent indulging in boards full of Camembert and Gouda, it might be time to start reconsidering how much you’re eating. For hard styles (like Cheddar) and anything like Stilton or Brie, you should only be eating around the size of two thumbs, and for soft cheese, it’s three teaspoons.
For further information on portion sizes, have a look at the Find Your Balance pamphlet.
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