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Back to basics: Serve sizes

One of the things that confused me when I first started studying nutrition was what actually constituted a serve size — It seemed like an elusive fairytale. No one really knew what a serve size actually was. And you can’t trust what you read on the back of the package, that serve size is made up by the manufacturers, so they could basically put whatever they want on there. A good example of this is bottle of Coke:
These are all products from the UK, and all except the 500mL are said to be “1 serve” based on the nutrition panel. However, every single one is a different size-How can these all be compared then, when the serve size is different? The same goes for the products worldwide. A bigger bottle is still only 1 serve. Tricky huh!

While this is true for many pre-packaged products, how are we as consumers supposed to figure out how much we should actually be consuming? The Australian dietary guidelines have been well researched (Think 55,000 research papers), and have been discussed and approved by not only the government, but a raft of experts. You can’t really argue with that. Below I have outlined what constitutes a serve size of each food group:

Vegetables include fresh, cooked, and canned vegetables as well as beans and legumes, and generally we need around 5-6 of these a day. The majority of people don’t consume this amount of vegetables. A serve of cooked vegetables would be 1/2 cup of parsnip, beetroot or cauliflower, or a whole cup of fresh green leafy vegetables, such as lettuce, rocket, spinach, silverbeet or asian greens. A serve of starchy vegetables is slightly less-1/2 a medium (Potato or sweet potato). 

Most people consume the recommended 2 serves of fruit a day, and this includes; the larger fruit such as apples, oranges, pears, and bananas, where one whole piece is equivalent to 1 serve; and smaller fruit such as plums, apricots, kiwifruit, and nectarines, where 2 small pieces are equivalent to 1 serve. There are also things like watermelon, berries, and chopped fruit, where 1 cup is equivalent to 1 serve. Just remember that dried fruit is very energy dense-so only have occasionally, and only consume in small amounts (for example 4 dried apricot halves).

Dairy products are a little tricky-they all have very different serve sizes. For example-1 cup of milk is equivalent to 1 serve, however 3/4 cup of yoghurt is equivalent to 1 serve. The other tricky one is cheese-1 serve is only 40g – about the size of a match box. Generally we need 2 1/2 – 4 serves of dairy per day, it just depends on your age and gender (see the table below).

Grain serves for grain and cereal food are pretty easy, for example 1 slice of bread is 1 serve, as is 1 crumpet of English muffin. When it comes to rice, pasta, noodles or quinoa 1/2 cup is equivalent to one serve. Overall we tend to eat too many grain and cereal products, we need between 3 and 6, depending on age and gender (see table below), and pregnant and lactating women need even more.
Its easy to over consume grain and cereal products, and while they do contain a large amount of nutrients, we can get most of these nutrients from elsewhere. So make sure when you do eat grains and cereals get the whole grain and high fibre varieties to get the most nutrients possible.

Generally people in the western world over consume meat, we only need 2-3 serves a day. One serve of red meat is equivalent to 65g (or an easy visualisation is a small palmful), and for poultry one serve is equivalent to 80g (a slightly bigger palmful. When it comes to eggs, 2 large is one serve, and 1 cup of legumes is also one serve. Nuts are a really easy one to over consume – 30g is one serve, however most packets of nuts come much larger than this. Nuts are a great source of healthy fats, but they are very energy dense, so be careful not to over consume them. 
Below is an overview table for the recommended amounts of serves adults should be getting everyday. This is generally for adults who are doing moderate levels of activity, so for those who are heavily active (such as athletes), these amounts will not be the same. 

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