As a registered dietitian, I often get asked “how much should I be eating?” or variations of that question.
The answer is “it depends”. One thing I encourage my clients (and you guys!) to do is to think more about WHAT you’re eating versus so much focus on HOW MUCH.
I like the portion plates shown above because they offer a visual of what your servings sizes should look like and what your plate at each meal should contain. Half of your plate fruits and vegetables, 1/4 plate carbohydrates, 1/4 plate protein and some healthy fats and oils incorporated. Not shown on the plate, but also include a source of hydration with each meal.
I feel like eating out has skewed our image of portion sizes and in particular, the amount of carbs we need at each meal (For example, when eating at an Italian restaurant and the whole LARGE plate is pasta!).
So let’s break it down…
It is important to consume a good serving (20-40g) of protein at each meal. Protein helps us maintain and build lean muscle mass, which is important for everyone, regardless of goals, training, or age. Most people are missing this key component especially at breakfast. Here are some examples of servings sizes of common breakfast food items that provide protein:
- 8 oz. low fat milk (8g protein)
- 1 cup low fat Greek yogurt (19g protein)
- 3/4 cup cottage cheese (19g protein)
- 2 eggs (12g protein)
- 4 egg whites (14g protein)
- 3 oz. lean turkey breast (25g protein)
- 1 cup oatmeal (6g protein)
- 1 slice whole wheat bread (4g protein)
- 1 Tbsp. peanut butter (3.5g protein)
The oatmeal, bread, and peanut butter are not protein based foods, they are just to give you an example that when you mix and match your breakfast foods, the non-protein foods do contain some protein.
A serving size for carbs is 1/4 of your plate or about 1 fist size portion. Carbohydrates are the food group that most needs to be tailored to your activity level. Someone who is very active will need more carbs than someone who is sedentary. Similarly, someone who is very active will need more carbs on an intense workout day versus a rest or recovery day. Here are some examples of carbohydrate serving sizes:
- 1 slice whole wheat bread
- 1/2 cup oatmeal
- 1/2 – 3/4 cup whole grain, high fiber cereal
- 1/2 baked potato
- 1/2 cup whole wheat pasta
- 1/3 cup brown rice
- 1/4 cup quinoa
- 1/2 cup corn, beans, or peas
- 3 cups popcorn
There is no need to go gluten free unless you have an allergy or intolerance, but it is good to vary your carbohydrate choices and choose starchy vegetables (potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn, peas), beans, lentils, fruit, etc. sometimes versus always having pasta and bread-type items at each meal. Check out Anne’s post Should Everyone Go Gluten Free?
Healthy fats (unsaturated and omega 3s) are so important and most people are not consuming enough of these foods. Your body needs healthy fats for brain health, cell integrity, hormone production and function, decrease inflammation, and more. These foods also help you feel full longer so they are more filling and satisfying and good to incorporate into your meals and snacks. Here are some examples of healthy fat foods and portion sizes:
- Nuts (walnuts, almonds, cashews) (10-15 nuts)
- Nut butter (1 Tbsp.)
- Avocado (1/4 whole)
- Oil (olive, flaxseed, fish) (1 Tbsp.)
- Seeds (pumpkin, flaxseed, chia) (2 Tbsp.)
- Fatty fish (salmon, tuna, mackerel, herring) (3-4 oz.)
As mentioned earlier, these foods do provide some protein as well, but for simplicity sake we are grouping them into the healthy fat category. If you are not consuming enough of these foods, especially omega 3s (fatty fish, walnuts, flaxseed), consider taking an omega 3 or fish oil supplement. Make sure to get a high quality product such as EXOS or Nordic Naturals.
Fruits and Vegetables
Eating produce is so important to give your body the vitamins, minerals, and nutrients that it needs for all the different processes going on. Fruits and vegetables provide nutrients to boost your immune system, maintain heart and circulatory health, skin health, brain health, etc. Aim to get 5+ servings of fruit and vegetables every day. Here are some examples of portion sizes:
- Medium size fruit (apple, orange, pear)
- 1/2 banana
- 1 cup berries
- 2 Tbsp. dried fruit
- 1 cup raw vegetables
- 1/2 cup cooked vegetables
Here’s a great article from Precision Nutrition about the Myths and Fallacies of ‘Metabolic Damage’ or what happens to your body when you yo-yo diet.
Disclaimer: I am a registered dietitian, but this is general nutrition information. If you need individualized information, please schedule an appointment with a registered dietitian.