Sizing things up: what is a serving size?

As a dietitian, I have to admit the phrase “everything in moderation” has slipped from my lips on occasion. But what is moderation? What should we be eating? What’s a serving size?

The Australian Dietary Guidelines  provide recommendations for how many serves of each food group we should aim for each day, in order to get the nutrients we need. These recommendations differ depending on your age, gender and life stage, as well as if you are tall or very active.

How much do i need to eat? 

Recommended average daily number of serves from each of the five food groups* Additional serves for taller or more active men and women
  Vegetables and legumes/beans Fruit Grain (cereal) foods, mostly wholegrain Lean meat and poultry, fish, eggs, nuts and seeds, and legumes/beans Milk, yoghurt, cheese and/or alternatives (mostly reduced fat) Approx. number of additional serves from the five food groups or discretionary choices
19-50 6 2 6 3 0-3
51-70 2 6 0-
70+ 5 2
19-50 5 2 6 0-
51-70 5 2 4 2 4 0-
70+ 5 2 3 2 4 0-2
Pregnant 5 2 0-
Lactating 2 9 0-2½

 * Includes an allowance for unsaturated spreads or oils, nuts or seeds (4 serves [28-40g] per day for men less than 70 years of age; 2 serves [14-20g] per day for women and older men.)

What is a serve?

A standard serve or vegetables or legumes and beans is about 75g or:

  • ½ cup cooked vegetables or legumes (such as lentils or chickpeas)
  • 1 cup green leafy or raw salad vegetables
  • ½ cup sweet corn
  • ½ medium potato or other starchy vegetables (sweet potato, taro or cassava)

A standard serve of fruit is about 150g or:

  • 1 medium fruit (such as apple, banana or orange)
  • 2 small fruit  (such as apricots or kiwi fruit)
  • 1 cup diced or canned fruit (no added sugar)

Or only occasionally:

  • 125ml (½ cup) fruit juice (no added sugar)
  • 30g dried fruit 

A standard serve of grain and cereal foods is:

  • 1 slice bread
  • ½ medium roll or flat bread
  • ½ cup cooked cereal or grain (such as rice, pasta, noodles, oats, barley or quinoa)
  • cup wheat cereal flakes
  • ¼ cup muesli
  • 3 crispbreads
  • 1 crumpet
  • 1 small English muffin or scone

A standard serve of meat and meat alternatives is: 

  • 65g cooked (90-100g raw) lean red meats 
  • 80g cooked (100g raw) lean poultry such as chicken or turkey
  • 100g (115g raw) cooked fish filleor one small can of fish
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup cooked or canned legumes/beans such as lentils or chick peas
  • 70g tofu
  • 30g nuts, seeds, or other nut or seed paste

A standard serve of dairy and dairy alternatives is:

  • 1 cup (250ml) milk or alternatives (such as soy or rice milk)
  • 2 slices or 40g of hard cheese, such as cheddar
  • ½ cup ricotta cheese
  • ¾ cup (200g) yoghurt
What are discretionary food choices?
Some things don’t fit into the five food groups and are called ‘discretionary foods’ (also ‘sometimes foods’ or junk food). Discretionary foods are normally low in nutritional value and fiber, and high in kilojoules, saturated fat, added sugars and added salt. Too much of these can contribute to poorer health. Here are some recommended serving sizes for common discretionary foods:
  • 2 scoops (75g) regular ice cream
  • 1 ½ thick or 2 thinner higher fat/salt sausages
  • 2-3 sweet biscuits (plain)
  • 1 (40 g) doughnut
  • 1 slice (40 g) plain cake or small cake-type muffin
  • 40g sugar confectionary (about 5-6 small lollies)
  • 1/2 small bar (25 g) chocolate
  • 1 tablespoon (20 g) butter or hard margarine
  • 200 mL wine (2 standard drinks)
  • 60 mL spirits (2 standard drinks)
  • 400 mL regular beer (1½ standard drinks)
  • 1 can (375 mL) soft drink
  • 1/3 (60 g) commercial meat pie or pastie
  • 12 (60 g) fried hot chips

Think about your own diet: are you having too much of a food group? Are you missing out on others?  It’s important to remember that these guidelines are recommendations for average Australians. If you have specific dietary requirements or goals, visit an Accredited Practising Dietitian for tailored advice. 

The above health information is general information only and is not a substitute for advice from a qualified medical or other health professional. Always consult your general practitioner or medical specialist before changing your diet, starting an exercise program or taking medication or supplements of any kind.
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