What is the difference between portions and servings?

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Jessica Crandall
Nutrition & Dietetics

A portion is the amount of food consumed at one meal time, such as 4 ounces of meat. A serving is the recommended amount to consume as advised from public education such as MyPlate or MyPyramid. Serving example would be MyPlate recommends 2-3 (1/2 cup equals 1 serving) servings of fruit a day. Portion control is important and provided below are quick ways to gauge portions.

  • Size of tennis ball = 1 serving of fruit 
  • Size of 4 dice = 1.5 ounce of cheese 
  • Size of 1 deck of cards = 3 ounces of meat 
  • Size of 1 die = 1 tsp. of butter/margarine/oil
Alberta Scruggs
Nutrition & Dietetics
I talk about these two topics frequently because they are used interchangeably, but are not.

A portion size differs from a serving size because a portion size is the amount you decide you want to eat. It may be a 24 oz. ribeye steak or half of a lemon-meringue pie. Whereas, 3 ounces of steak and 1/6 of lemon meringue pie is the recommended serving size set by the USDA.

A serving size is a unit of measure used to describe the amount of food recommended from each food group or in a food product. Serving sizes have pre-determined amounts of kcalories (or energy), and nutrients that provide the kcalorie amount of the food item. Serving sizes can help you remain within your daily caloric needs.
Constance Brown-Riggs
Nutrition & Dietetics
When it comes to portions and servings most people are confused, often using the terms interchangeably. Actually, portions and servings are two completely different measurements.

A portion is the amount of food you choose to eat for dinner, snack, or any eating occasion. Portions, of course can be bigger or smaller than the recommended food servings. A serving is a unit of measure used to describe the amount of food recommended from each food group. It is the amount of food listed on the Nutrition Facts panel on packaged food or the amount of food recommended in MyPlate and the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. This is particularly important if you have diabetes and are counting carbohydrates. If you don’t know what a serving is, you will get more or even less carbohydrate than you’re aiming for. This mistake could result in an elevation in your blood glucose, or your blood glucose may go too low. Successful management of diabetes requires a good understanding of serving sizes and how to properly weigh and measure your foods.
 
Dr. Vonda Wright, MD
Orthopedic Surgery
A "portion" can be thought of as the amount of a specific food you choose to eat for dinner, a snack, or another eating occasion. Portions, of course, can be bigger or smaller than the recommended food servings.

A "serving" is a unit of measure used to describe the amount of food recommended from each food group. It is the amount of food listed on the Nutrition Facts panel on packaged food or the amount of food recommended in the Food Guide Pyramid and the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, released by the U.S. government.

For example, six to 11 servings of whole grains are recommended daily. A recommended serving of whole grains would be one slice of bread of a half cup of rice or pasta. (Download the Serving Size Card at the website hp2010.nhlbihin.net/portion/servingcard7.pdf for more examples of recommended serving sizes.) People often confuse the recommendation to mean six to 11 portions with no regard to size. It is not six to 11 portions where a portion could mean a large bowl of pasta rather than a half cup. Keep an eye on portion size to see how your portions compare with the recommended amounts.
Fitness After 40: How to Stay Strong at Any Age

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Fitness After 40: How to Stay Strong at Any Age

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.