How do I Choose the Best Portion Guide?

Lainie Petersen

Choosing a portion guide requires considering your lifestyle and eating habits, and then selecting the tool that best assists in portion control. For people who mostly cook, and eat, at home, a portion scale can be an excellent option. For those who tend to dine out more, a portion guide that can easily compare a restaurant plate of food to similar objects may be more useful in determining nutritional content.

Measuring cups can help when detemining portion sizes given in guides.
Measuring cups can help when detemining portion sizes given in guides.

While medications, exercise clubs and diet programs are all used to treat obesity, many experts believe that teaching people how to control food portions is the key to helping people control their weight. By using a portion guide, people can begin to control their food intake in accordance to whatever diet or eating plan they are currently following. Obesity has become a public health crisis in many parts of the world. The ready availability of food, pernicious marketing of high-calorie "junk foods," and sedentary lifestyles combine to cause both expanding waistlines as well as the numerous health problems that come from being overweight.

Portion guides teach people to compare portions with common objects, like the palm of one's hand.
Portion guides teach people to compare portions with common objects, like the palm of one's hand.

At home, an inexpensive kitchen scale, combined with a good nutrition table, allows cooks and eaters to weigh out their food so they can calculate exactly how many calories, fats, or carbohydrates they are consuming. Some portion scales have a built-in computer that allows the user to type in the name of the food being weighed, and then offers precise nutritional information for that food.

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Beyond portion scales for home use, many individuals decide on a reliable portion guide, particularly since much of our cultural "portion distortion" is due to the large portions served in restaurants. Those who frequently dine out need to learn to eyeball their food in accordance with either an object or hand-based portion guide. An object portion guide teaches diners to compare the size of a food portion with a common object.

For example, a standard 2- to 3-ounce (56- to 112-gram) portion of meat is about the size of a card deck. A portion of vegetables is the size of a baseball. A hand-based portion guide is particularly useful for those who have trouble visualizing objects. Appropriate portions of different foods are compared to parts of a normal adult's hand.

The major advantage of learning to use a portion guide is that it helps the user understand the amount of food that he is eating, even if he is not trying to lose weight. If he or she knows that a favorite restaurant serves portions that are 2-4 times the standard portion for a particular food, he or she can make better choices about what, and how much, he eats there. For someone who enjoys convenience or snack foods, knowing how to measure out a portion into a separate bowl or plate can go a long way toward preventing weight gain. No matter what a person's health or diet concerns are, a reliable guide is an essential tool in achieving control over food portions.

Kitchen scales help users weigh food.
Kitchen scales help users weigh food.

Discussion Comments


Thanks for the feedback! Much appreciated. I will look into Dr. Wansink's work.


What an excellent article. I believe that the only way you can lose weight and keep it off is to adopt a new lifestyle and control your portions. “The best diet is the one you don’t know you’re on.” – Dr. Brian Wansink

I have the pleasure of working with Dr. Brian Wansink, author of the book, “Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think” and director of the Food and Brand Lab at Cornell University.

Read the book. I believe you and Dr. Wansink are definitely on the same page in helping people healthfully and realistically reaching weight loss goals while adopting a new healthy lifestyle.

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