Dr. Aaron Tabor, MD is the author of Dr. Tabor's Slim & Beautiful Diet and FIGHT NOW: Eat & Live Proactively Against Breast Cancer. After graduating from The Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, Dr. Tabor devoted his career to helping people live a life they love through medical research.

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Diet with Dr. Tabor

by Aaron Tabor, MD Diet & Anti-Aging Expert

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Consuming the appropriate portion size of the foods we eat is a vital part of eating healthy. However, it has become one of the things with which we have the greatest amount of difficulty. Part of this is likely due to the way portion sizes have changed over the years. A hamburger 20 years ago was much smaller than a typical fast food hamburger we consume now. This change in portion sizes over time has distorted our concept of correct portion sizes.

How to Estimate Proper PortionsOne nutrition study[1] used a computerized tool to determine how accurately adolescents estimate portion sizes. For this study, adolescents between the ages 11-17 years were asked to estimate portion sizes in two ways. In a short-term recall test, the children served themselves their usual amounts of 10 foods and later in the day were asked to estimate the amount they ate. In a real-time perception test, the children were asked to estimate pre-weighed portions. On average, the children in the study underestimated their self-served portions by 8% with substantial underestimations for breakfast cereals and French fries among others. The results of the real-time perception test were even worse with children underestimating portion sizes by 15% on average. Substantial underestimations in this test were found in 14 of the 20 portions.

These results make it pretty clear that not only us adults underestimate portion sizes. By underestimating portion sizes, we put ourselves into situations where we are eating more that we realize. The size of food items presented to us at stores and restaurants is typically much more than a single serving. For example, the 12 oz. steak we might be intent on grilling over the weekend is not one serving; it is actually 4 servings of meat. By assuming that one 12 oz. steak is one serving size, we find ourselves eating a lot more than planned throughout the course of a day. Learning how to estimate correct portion sizes is an important part of designing a healthy eating plan. In addition to actually weighing or measuring your food as you prepare it, you can visualize appropriate portion sizes. For example:

  • 3 oz. of meat (beef, poultry, and fish) equals a deck of cards
  • 1/2 cup of cooked pasta is about the size of a golf ball
  • 1 bagel should be about the size of a hockey puck
  • 1/2 cup of cooked vegetables is about the size of half a baseball
  • 1 teaspoon of butter is about the same size as the tip of your thumb
  • 1 cup of cereal is about the size of a baseball
  • 1 cup of fruit equals a tennis ball

If you want to test your knowledge, take the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute’s Portion Distortion Quiz!

Healthy Regards,

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Aaron Tabor, MD
Diet, Anti-Aging, and Nutritional Cosmetic Expert
Author of Dr. Tabor’s Diet and FIGHT NOW.

Learn more about Dr. Tabor’s diet and anti-aging research at www.DrTabor.com.
Learn more about Dr. Tabor’s breast cancer prevention book at www.fightBCnow.com.


Vereeckena C, et al. How accurate are adolescents in portion-size estimation using the computer tool Young Adolescents’ Nutrition Assessment on Computer (YANA-C)? British Journal of Nutrition 2010; 103:1844-1850.

@ 10:01am ET on June 28, 2010
Sooo...how can a 1/2 cup of pasta equal a golf ball and a 1/2 cup of veggies be the size of a tennis ball (actually 1/2 a tennis ball is more accurate). Same thing with the fruit and cereal - one is a tennis ball and the other is a baseball. Volume is volume! I would like to see you fit more than six macaroni elbows into a golf ball. You had better go back and re-measure.

@ 10:48am ET on June 29, 2010
Thank you for your comment.

A number of organizations use a baseball as equal to 1 cup, so I used that analogy as a reference for the vegetables.

Looking back at the pasta serving, I realize that the information I was using was from an organization geared to diabetic health where carbohydrate servings can sometimes be a bit more restrictive and that the 1/2 should have been typed as 1/3 since the ADA states that 1/3 cup of cooked pasta is a serving. For individuals without these concerns, you are correct that 1/2 cup of cooked pasta is a more typical serving size, which would be closer to half a tennis ball.

@ 7:08am ET on June 17, 2017
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@ 1:28pm ET on June 29, 2017
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@ 7:58am ET on June 30, 2017
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