10 ways to improve your nutritional health as you age:#7. Follow recommended servings

In order to maintain a healthy weight, it’s very important to bear in mind the recommended serving sizes. That is it’s possible to have too much of a good thing, including ‘healthy’ food!

Portion size guide

Recommended portion size for starchy foods

Starchy foods are our most important source of energy. It’s recommended that you include healthy, wholegrain starchy foods at every meal – they should make up just over a third of your diet.

Suggested amounts at each meal for an average adult looking to maintain their weight.  

  • 40g (1.4 oz) of cereal (about 6 tablespoons)
  • Two slices of bread/toast
  • One bread roll or bagel
  • One pitta bread
  • Five to six (egg-sized) new potatoes
  • 75g (2.6 oz) of uncooked rice or pasta (about 180g (6.3oz) when cooked)
  • One medium baked potato (with skin)
Uncooked these might look less than one may envisage adequate for satisfying meal, but do remember rice and pasta etc will swell quite a bit when cooked. 

Meat, fish, beans, eggs and other non-dairy proteins

Proteins are important for your body because they’re involved in growth and repair. As well as meat and fish, proteins can come from sources like beans and pulses. Include moderate amounts of protein in your diet – two or three portions throughout the day should be enough to give you what you need.

Here’s what counts as a portion.

  • 60–90g (2.1–3.2oz) of cooked meat (about the size of a deck of cards)
  • 140g (4.9oz) of cooked fish (the size of the palm of your hand)
  • Two medium-sized eggs
  • A small (200g or 7.1oz) tin of baked beans
  • Four tablespoons of lentils
  • 100g tofu, soya or other meat alternative
  • One tablespoon of peanut butter
  • A handful of nuts

When it comes to foods like meat and fish, these weigh less when they’re cooked because they lose water. So, a raw steak that weighs 175g is the equivalent of 130g when cooked.

Dairy and dairy-free alternatives

You also need to include some dairy foods in your diet (or fortified equivalents if you don’t eat dairy). These foods are an excellent source of calcium, which you need for healthy bones and teeth, as well as being another good source of protein. Have moderate amounts of dairy. Two or three portions a day based on the amounts below should be enough.

Here’s what counts as a portion.

  • A 200ml (7floz) glass of milk (or fortified soya, rice or oat milk)
  • A carton of yoghurt or fortified soya yoghurt (125ml or 4.4floz)
  • 30g (1.1oz) of hard cheese (about the size of a matchbox)

Fruit and vegetables

Aim to eat at least five portions of fruit and vegetables a day. The amount of fruit and veg you eat should make up just over a third of your diet.

One portion is 80g (2.8oz) of any fresh fruit or vegetable, 30g (1.1oz) of dried fruit or 150ml (5.3floz) of fruit juice or smoothie. Fruit juices and smoothies only count as a maximum of one portion a day, even if they contain more than one type of fruit or vegetable.

Here are some examples of what a portion looks like.

  • One medium fruit, such as an apple, orange, pear or banana.
  • Two small fruits, such as kiwis, satsumas or plums.
  • One large slice of a larger fruit, such as pineapple, or two slices of mango.
  • A handful of grapes or berries.
  • Three heaped tablespoons of peas, sweetcorn or carrots.
  • A dessert bowl of salad.
  • 150ml (5.3floz) of fruit juice or smoothie.
  • 30g (1.1oz) of dried fruits.
  • Three heaped tablespoons of beans or lentils (only counts as a maximum of one per day).

Oils and spreads

We need some fat in our diets, but this should mainly come from unsaturated fats. These include sunflower, rapeseed and olive oils, and spreads made from these oils. Aim to have oils or lower-fat spreads based on these oils in place of saturated fats when you can. You still only need limited amounts of these in your diet. 

In summary and possibly an easier way to think about portion sizes –

A portion size can be confusing for some of us we often wonder how much food we should be piling on our plate. Reduce your portion sizes to help you reduce and maintain a healthy weight.

A portion is:

  • a fist size of potatoes, bread, pasta or other starchy carbohydrates

  • a palm size of meat/fish or poultry

  • two handfuls of vegetables or salad

  • a cupped-handful of fruit

  • top of your thumb size of oil or fat spread.



Try using a smaller plate, filling half of your plate with vegetables and avoiding second helpings. I also find if I cook too much I’m tempted to eat it all…except when it’s double and then I can halve it, freeze the meal or have it for lunch the next day – actually I find each portion is often a little less than anticipated but the appreciation of two meals from one cooking session eases the pain! 


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