What are recommended portion sizes? This is a question that I am frequently asked. I am going to answer it from a general health and food sustainability perspective. This is the third article of our Food and Sustainability series.
As Michael Pollan, an advocate for sustainable eating, says, “Eat Food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”
But what are the recommended portion sizes so we can avoid eating too much, enjoy eating and get the nutrients that we need?
Recommended portion sizes for health
Please note that I will use the term portion and serve sizes interchangeably.
The following recommended portion or serving sizes are based on the Australian Dietary Guidelines and Nutrient Reference Values for adults.
These two sets of guidelines were used to develop the portion sizes recommended in Eating for Health (Australia).
As these guidelines are for general health in our population, they may require fine-tuning for your personal health and lifestyle requirements.
The environmental impacts of the recommended portion sizes of food were considered and based on the best available evidence at the time.
You may read the guidelines for children and teenagers here.
Recommended portion sizes for sustainability and health
In January 2019 EAT-Lancet released their report, Food Planet Health: Healthy diets from sustainable food systems.
In this post, I am only reporting on the healthy diets portion sizes, not sustainable food systems. I will cover this in a future article.
The recommended portion sizes in the EAT- Lancet report vary from those in Eat for Health due to current information concerning environmental impacts of food production.
See in the table below.
|EAT –Lancet Range
|Eat for Health range
|3 – 9
|Dairy foods and alternatives
|0 to 2 serves
|2.5 to 4 serves
|Protein sources (raw weights)
|Choose 2 to 3.5 serves
|Beef, lamb, pork (raw)
|14g (0 – 28g)
|90 – 100g
|29g (0 – 58g)
|13g (0 – 25)
|2 large eggs (120g)
|28g (0 – 100g)
|75g (0 – 200g)
|150 – 220 g
|50g (0 – 75g)
|40g (20 – 80g)
|14 – 40g
|11.8g (0 – 11.8g)
|All added sugars
Recommended portion sizes (serves)
- Vegetables = 75g or ½ cup cooked vegetables, or 1 cup leafy greens (salads or spinach)
- Starchy vegetables = 75g = 1 small potato (Eat for Health) or 100g in EAT-Lancet report. I am not concerned about the variation in portion size. The main aim is to eat a variety of coloured vegetables and keep starchy vegetables to one serve.
- Fruit = medium piece of fruit (100g in EAT Lancet and 150g in Eat for Health). Aim for 200 to 300g of fruit per day. There will be natural variation from day to day anyway.
- Whole grains = 1 slice bread (40g) or ½ cup cooked rice, quinoa, oats or buckwheat. Note Eat for Health includes refined grains with the recommendation to “Eat mostly whole grain and high fibre varieties”. The EAT-Lancet promotes only whole grains.
- Dairy = 250ml milk, or 40g cheese or 200g yoghurt.
- Protein sources: The EAT-Lancet recommended serves and ranges allow for total flexibility; vegan, vegetarian, pescatarian and omnivore eating patterns. Eat for Health also allows for this flexibility. The EAT-Lancet report has not provided suggested meal plans, but I suggest the following as a guide for two serves of protein foods a day: 100g fish (raw) plus 200g cooked legumes; 200g cooked legumes plus 170g tofu; 65g beef plus 2 eggs. I would consider nuts separately.
- Oils: One tablespoon of oil weights = 13.6g. Ranges vary between the Eat for Health guidelines and the EAT-Lancet recommendations. This variance has occurred due to the latter allowing for higher energy intakes.
In the Australian Eat for Health guidelines the recommendation for red meat is up to 455g per week, whereas it is 98g in the EAT-Lancet Report. The latter has paid more attention to environmental sustainability.
The number of eggs and dairy is also far less than in the EAT-Lancet report compared to the Eat for Health guidelines. Vegetarians can replace red meat and poultry with eggs. Research suggests that up to 7 eggs per week are supportive of health.
Dairy recommendations vary around the world and are based on calcium intake recommendations in relation to bone fractures. Based on the incidence of bone fractures in different communities, research is currently suggesting that 500mg calcium a day is required to prevent fractures. But another method of estimating our requirements (calcium balance in the body) suggests 1000mg for adults.
Note: Two serves of dairy foods will provide around 600 mg calcium and other foods provide, on average, 300 to 400mg calcium.
Talk to your healthcare practitioner about your personal requirements.
Sugar and Discretionary foods
Added sugar intake is also the lower end of the World Health Organisation recommended range of 5% of total energy or 6 teaspoons, based on 8700 kJ per day.
Eat for Health also allows for discretionary foods, what I refer to as occasional foods. Due to health and environmental reasons, EAT-Lancet discourages ultra-processed foods.
Further guidance on portion sizes and putting meals together, can be found in the Eating for You book.
What does this mean for you?
The answer to this depends upon your current pattern of eating, vegan, vegetarian, pescatarian or omnivore, and your personal health requirements.
It also needs to take into consideration your ethical and religious views on food.
Eating sustainably, for most people living in Western cultures, means:
- Doubling our consumption of plant foods (vegetables, fruit, and legumes).
- Halving of our red meat and sugar consumption.
Please discuss your personal nutrition and health requirements with your healthcare practitioner.
Contact Sallyanne for personal nutrition programs here.
EAT Lancet Commission Summary Report