How much is the right amount of food?

Knowing how much to eat can be tricky. Obviously eating the right amount of something is ideal, but if you don’t know how much the right amount is then you’re a bit stuck. 

My favourite guide to knowing how much is about right is simple, involves no weighing and can be used wherever you are. Your hands.

Your hands are great because you always have them with you but the rule can apply to everyone. If you are a giant, you have giant hands and you need giant portions and if you are small you need smaller portions. The other great thing about your hands is that they don’t change much. No matter what your weight status (under or over) your hands stay roughly the same size so if you are underweight eating to your hand size will get you to a healthy weight, and if you are overweight the same is true. 



Your hands are a good guide also because it’s relatively inconspicuous. In a restaurant, for example, you don’t have to get your scales out and weigh your pasta, you just separate out a pile that’s roughly the size of your fist.

A portion of protein is about the size of the palm of your hand and on average you need 2-3 portions of protein a day. This works out roughly at just under a portion per meal.

A portion of carbohydrates is about the size of your fist and on average you need about 4-6 portions per day. This is partly dependent on how much activity you are doing. On a day where you go for a 5k run, you are more likely to need five portions than four portions. This works out to be about 1-1½ portions per meal and some for snacks.

A portion of vegetables is about what you can fit in your cupped hand. You need about five portions of fruit and veg a day with a ratio of about two portions of fruit to three of veg. This is about 1½ portions per meal. This is an average and it doesn’t matter if you get more than this, but there are a couple of rules to follow: don’t eat vegetables at the expense of protein and carbs. This means that if you eat so many vegetables that you aren’t hungry enough to eat a balanced meal then you are eating too many vegetables. The other is that you should aim for about one handful of fruit at a time. Fruit has quite a bit of sugar in it and although it is healthy if you eat too much in one go then it can cause a blood sugar spike.

A portion of fat is about the size of the tip of your thumb. You need two portions a day to get all the fat-soluble vitamins but it’s pretty easy to get this from food without really trying. Egg yolks, full-fat dairy, cheese, oily fish, pork and beef, lamb, nuts and seeds, avocados etc are already rich sources of fat so if you eat a lot of these anyway then you are likely getting plenty. Remember that fat is high in calories and too much may stop you from losing weight. As a rule, try to stick to no more than one thumb-tip of additional oil per meal. So if you are adding dressing to a salad or frying in oil, stick to that amount per portion. For most people a thumb-tip corresponds to about a teaspoon, depending on how big your thumbs are. If a recipe for two servings calls for a tablespoon of oil, reduce this to two teaspoons to get the right amount.


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