Serving Size: Definition & Examples

Instructor: Artem Cheprasov

Artem has a doctor of veterinary medicine degree.

In this lesson, you'll learn about serving size and where to find it. You'll also learn about a similar concept, that of servings, and how many you need for each food group and what that comes out to be using real-world examples.

What Is Serving Size?

Go to your kitchen and grab any item with a nutrition facts label on it. Turn the item so the label is facing you. Do you see how it says serving size right underneath the big lettering of 'Nutrition Facts'? The nutritional information given to you on the label corresponds to the amount of food that is denoted by the serving size. For example, if the serving size for a box of oatmeal is '1 cup dry,' and the total fat in the oatmeal is shown as 3 grams, then you know for a serving size of 1 cup of oatmeal there is 3 grams of fat. Similarly, if you eat 2 cups of oatmeal (dry), then you'll eat 6 grams of fat.

Now, this was an example of serving size for an individually packaged food. Another concept of 'serving size' (or simply 'servings') exists with respect to major food groups in general and guidelines established by organizations such as the American Heart Association. In other words, how many servings of one type of food should you eat based on these recommendations? Well, that's what this lesson will go into: the numbers and examples of recommended servings for different food groups and real world examples of their size.

Grains, Vegetables, Fruits, & Dairy

Based on current American Heart Association guidelines (and assuming a 2,000 calorie diet), you should eat about 7 servings of grains per day. Grains are things like oatmeal, wheat, and rice. What does one serving of grains look like in the real world? Well, you can equate it to these approximate examples:

  • A slice of bread
  • ½ cup of cooked rice
  • 1 oz of dry cereal

Next up, the dreaded vegetables. You should eat about 4-5 servings of vegetables per day. Vegetables include radishes, celery, and cabbage. Examples of 1 serving of vegetables include:

  • ½ cup of vegetable juice
  • ½ cup of raw or cooked vegetables, such carrots & broccoli
  • 1 cup of raw leafy vegetables, like spinach

Not nearly as bad as some of those vegetables are fruits! Like vegetables, you need to get about 4-5 servings of these guys per day. For one serving, this comes out to be something like:

  • ¼ cup of dried fruit, like dried apricot
  • A fruit the size of a baseball, like an apple
  • ½ cup of fruit, which can be fresh, frozen, or canned (like pineapple)
  • ½ cup of fruit juice, like orange juice

The great thing about fruits and vegetables is that they are fat free or have healthy fats when compared to dairy products. So if you're going to eat yummy dairy things like milk, yogurt, or cheese, you may want to stick to low fat or fat-free varieties if your doctor has recommended as much. In that case, you should get about 2-3 servings of such dairy products every day, where 1 serving is approximately:

  • 1 cup of milk
  • 1 cup of yogurt
  • 1.5 oz of cheese

Meats, Fats, Nuts, & Sweets

While the last section is great for vegetarians, not everyone avoids eating meat, poultry, and seafood. If you are a bit more carnivorous, then try to choose lean meat, poultry, and seafood. Of this kind, you only need less than 6 oz per day. 3 oz of cooked meat is about the size of a computer mouse while 3 oz of cooked fish is roughly that of a checkbook.

The reason lean varieties of meat are recommended is because they contain less unhealthy fats. But you do need fat in your diet and even a bit of unhealthy fat may be unavoidable. If you're going to choose fats, go for liquid vegetable oil and soft margarine. You only need 2-3 servings of fats and oils per day. 1 serving can be seen as:

  • 1 teaspoon of vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon of soft margarine
  • 1 tablespoon of mayonnaise

If all of this advice if making you go nuts, then we're at the right section! That's because nuts, seeds, and legumes should be eaten at about 4-5 servings per week. 1 serving comes out to be something like:

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