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What you need to know about portion sizes

Even your best-laid healthy-eating plans can go off course if you don’t pay attention to portion sizes.

One small thing: Be more aware of your serving sizes. Use your hand to check that your serving of meat is no more than the size of your palm and the amount of rice you have is no bigger than your fist. The good news is you don’t have to hold back on your servings of vegetables and salad.

Size counts – whether consuming a piece of cake or a piece of fruit. Too much of anything is not a good thing, and portion control helps to ensure that everything we eat is done so in moderation.

According to registered dietitian Leanne Kiezer, the obesity rate among South Africans has increased, and with this comes a heightened risk of lifestyle diseases, such as Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease. She adds that many South Africans are eating foods that are high in fat and sugar, thereby consuming too much energy and subsequently gaining weight. Unhealthy portion sizes are also contributing to the problem.

“With the gradual increase in the amount of food we serve, people have lost touch with what a ‘healthy amount’ actually is. This is called portion distortion,” says Kiezer.

Get your portion sizes back on track

But just how much is enough? According to Kiezer, the following tips from the Department of Health are spot-on to get your portion sizes back on track.

  • Check product labels for the recommended serving size. Often, what looks like a single serving is meant for two.
  • Use smaller bowls, plates and serving utensils when dishing up.
  • Weigh or measure foods so you know exactly how much you’re eating. Keep a 125ml (or ½ cup) measure in your cereal container or keep a kitchen scale handy.
  • Don’t be tempted by second and third helpings. Your body will only register feeling “full” some time after eating a meal. So, don’t be fooled that you’re still hungry, after eating proper portions.
  • Eat slowly and pay attention to your body’s internal cues to avoid overeating. You don’t necessarily need to feel full, just satisfied. Eating slowly will help you recognise satiety before the point of overeating.
  • Have regular meal and snack times. This will help you to manage your sugar levels and hunger, and stop you from overeating at the next meal.
  • Many restaurants serve more food than you need. Control this by sharing a meal with a friend or asking the waiter to put half the meal in a takeaway container before it’s brought to the table.
  • Half of your plate should consist of vegetables and fruit, ¼ of good quality high-fibre carbohydrates and ¼ of a lean source of protein.
How to measure portion sizes

A convenient way to measure portion sizes is by using your hand. The Department of Health suggests the following:

Size of your palm

  • Chicken
  • Fish
  • Meat

Size of your fist

  • Cooked pap, pasta or rice

One small handful (1 tablespoon)

  • Nuts
  • Raisins

Two handfuls

  • Vegetables (cooked)

Tip of your thumb (1 teaspoon)

  • All oils
  • Mayonnaise
  • Margarine

One thumb

  • Peanut butter
  • Hard cheese

If you have a question for our dietitians, click here, or to find a dietitian in your area, visit To get in touch with us, email