The British Nutrition Foundation (BNF) has launched a practical guide to portion sizes called Find your balance – get portion wise! to help people understand not just which foods to eat, but how often and in what quantities, in order to maintain a healthy weight and have a balanced diet.1 The guide, based on the government’s Eatwell Guide, uses simple hand and spoon measurements to help people estimate appropriate portions, when cooking and serving food.
In creating the guide, nutrition scientists reviewed portion size guidance from other countries, analysed portion sizes currently consumed in the UK and what is available to buy in supermarkets. These portion sizes were modelled in test diets to ensure they could meet current food and nutrient-based recommendations. Based on this, guidance was developed on how often to eat foods from the main food groups and sensible portion sizes for healthy adults, based on an average daily calorie allowance of 2000kcal.
We are very proud of World Cancer Research Fund’s Medical and Scientific Adviser, Martin Wiseman, who (with a different professional hat on) was part of the expert panel who helped BNF to develop these resources.
Different people, different portions
The guide recognises that we’re all individuals with different needs, but for healthy adults the range of different foods we need is pretty much the same for all of us. However, the amount of food we need varies from person to person. The portion sizes given are averages for healthy adults. If someone is taller or very active, they may need more and could have larger portions. If they are a smaller person or are trying to lose weight, they may need smaller portions. If people use the hand measures suggested then portion sizes will vary with the size of people’s hands and so, generally, bigger people will automatically get bigger portions and smaller people will get smaller ones.
Finding balance across the day
From each food group, the BNF suggest:
- Fruit and vegetables: 5+ portions per day
- Starchy carbohydrates: 3–4 portions per day
- Beans, pulses, fish, eggs, meat and other proteins: 2–3 portions per day
- Dairy and alternatives: 2–3 portions per day
- Unsaturated oils and spreads: small amounts
The most accurate way to measure portion sizes is to weigh food, but the guide provides some practical measures using hands and spoons that people can use to get an idea of sensible portion sizes.
One portion of starchy carbohydrates:
- The amount of cooked pasta or rice that would fit in two hands cupped together (180g)
- A baked potato about the size of your fist (220g)
One portion of a source of protein:
- A piece of grilled chicken breast about half the size of your hand (120g)
- About 1 tablespoon of peanut butter (20g)
Portion size and cancer
Keeping weight within the healthy range and avoiding weight gain can help to protect against 12 types of cancer.2 We advise people to keep an eye on portion sizes and be mindful of their own internal hunger and fullness signals. It can be helpful to choose smaller serving sizes to avoid eating beyond feelings of fullness. Download or purchase printed 'Find your balance' resources.
1. British Nutrition Foundation. Find your balance – get portion wise! 2019.
2. World Cancer Research Fund/American Institute for Cancer Research. Continuous Update Project Expert Report. Body fatness and weight gain and the risk of cancer. 2018.