September “Eat Healthy” – Portion control. Size counts!

Who remembers 2004’s ‘Super size me documentary film on McDonald’s by Morgan Spurlock, where he must Super Size the meal when offered. The focus of the film was on fast food and its effects on health, and portion size was central to the debate.

How often do we all eat more than we really need?  So what portion is considered a good portion size?

The British Heart Foundations publishes its Top Tips for portion control which include:

  • Using a smaller plate
  • Ask for less (don’t super-size)
  • Avoid picking at left-overs (a classic for parents finishing up kids left overs!)
  • 20 minute rule – Still feel hungry? Wait 20 mins and see if you need that second helping.



Within the Nutritional Therapy profession they recommend the following portion sizes:

A portion of fruit /veg is approx 80g, or the size of a medium apple. Aim for 8-10 portions of colourful fruit and vegetables per day, of which only 2-3 should be fruit and the 7 vegetables.

I decided to put this to the test and weigh out some fruit and vegetables in my fridge to really gauge what an average portion looks like and I was surprised by the results:

  1.  Large Orange = 358g or equivalent to 4.5 portions
  2. Large Fuji Apple = 280g or equivalent to 3.5 portions
  3. Average sized kiwi = 118g or equivalent to 1.5 portions
  4. Large carrot = 128g or equivalent to 1.5 portions
  5. Average courgette = 162g or equivalent to 2 portions
  6. Small cucumber = 214g or equivalent to 2.75 portions
  7. Average Strawberry = 36g or equivalent to 0.5 portions

When I first read read 8-10 portions of fruit / vege per day I thought “wow” but looking at the results of my weigh-in, it’s surprising to see how easy it could be to achieve that number and also over-eat foods, particularly fruits which contain fructose sugars which contribute to total sugar intake. If you read our March “Eat healthy” article on Carbs then you’ll remember that excess sugars may be converted and stored as fat by the body if not used up with physical activity.

Average weights of fruit and vegetables

A portion of protein (meat, fish) is the size and thickness of the palm of your hand, or 2 eggs

I had a pack of two cod fillets weighing 324g in my fridge. Following the above portion recommendation of a portion of protein being the “size of the palm of your hand” I measured my fillets which came in slightly longer but overall a pretty good fit. So  I can assume that c. 150g is a reasonable portion of protein.


A portion of carbohydrates (potatoes, rice, pasta) is approximately the size of your clenched fist.

When I think of the average bowl of pasta I see served in restaurants it is clear that portion sizes are way above that of a clenched fist. And this is invariably part of the problem. Portion sizes out of the home have grown so much that what we serve ourselves at home has most probably followed.

Clenched Fist portion of pasta

So how much does portion size impact on our overall health?

In the film, Spurlock ate Mcdonalds 3 times a day and in doing so consumed 5000 calories a day (double the 2500/d recommended for men), gaining a total of 11.1kg. Worse still were the physiological effects including raised cholesterol, sexual dysfunction and frequent mood swings. This was a combination of the “type and quality” of foods together with the portion size.

Our series on “Eat healthy” has, over the past months, discussed the major macro nutrient food groups; carbohydrates, protein and Fat, as well as talking about nutrient rich fruits and vegetables and the concept of eating a rainbow of colours. Having identified some of the more nutritious sources of foods, portion size is yet another piece of the puzzle to eating healthily.

So next time you reach for seconds, be aware of how much you’ve eaten, maybe follow the 20 minute rule to see if you are in fact still hungry and follow the quick and easy hand rule for portion sizes.