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Amanda is Healthy Food Guide's nutrition editor with a degree in nutrition and a post-grad diploma in dietetics. She is a member of the British Dietetic Association, The Nutrition Society and The Guild of Food...

Following the release of the British Nutrition Foundation’s new initiative to raise awareness around healthy portion sizes, HFG nutrition editor, Amanda Ursell, explains how we can follow the guidance in our everyday diets.


Watch Amanda on BBC Breakfast discussing the new portion size initiative. 

If I had a pound for every time I’ve heard people tell me that they follow the principals of healthy eating, yet can’t shift the weight, I’d be in the Bahamas writing this blog under a palm tree. The problem is that even if they’re eating a balanced diet, a lot of people still don’t know what healthy portion sizes look like.

One of the criticisms that has been levelled at the Department of Health’s Eatwell Guide is the lack of detail included on portions but a brand new initiative launched by the British Nutrition Foundation aims to combat this grey area. The initiative, called ‘Find your balance – get portion wise!’ takes each of the Eatwell Guide’s food groups and provides a suggested number of servings, plus a sensible serving size for each type of food within it.

Image of BNF portion wheel
The new guidelines from BNF

However, one size doesn’t fit all…

The guide acknowledges that while we are all different, healthy adults need pretty much the same range of different types of food and drink. However, the amounts needed vary from person to person. If you are tall and very active for example, it is likely that you will have a higher energy need than someone smaller and less active.

While grams of portions are provided by the BNF, which will add up to around 2,000 calories in total, there are also corresponding measures you can make, using your own hands as a guide.  This means that, generally, bigger people will automatically get bigger portions and smaller people will get smaller portions. As the BNF says: ‘It’s about balancing the food groups and finding the portion sizes that are right for you.’

What does this look and feel like in practice?

Well, for the vegetables and fruits section of the Eatwell Guide, the advice sounds familiar: five servings or more are recommended with the encouragement to ‘just eat more’. This means, that whether fresh, frozen, canned, or dried, we should be eating as many fruits and vegetables as possible.

Try our 5-a-day chickpea & cauliflower curry

Image of chickpea cauliflower curry

Unsurprisingly, the advice for fats and oils is still to consume them in small amounts.

For the ‘starchy carbs’ section of the Eatwell Guide, the BNF suggests eating three to four servings a day and to eat wholegrains where possible. If you’re tucking into four servings, one of these should be snack-sized. The other three should be based on around a 40g serving of cereal (three handfuls), two medium slices of bread (80g), 180g of cooked pasta (which is the amount you can fit in two cupped hands) or a 220g baked potato (about the size of your fist). A starchy carb snack could be 24g (two) oatcakes or 20g (three handfuls) of plain popcorn.

When it comes to protein rich foods, the advice is simple: go for two to three servings a day. This can consist of two eggs, 200g (half a can) of baked beans or other pulses and approx 120g-140g (about half the size of your hand) respectively of lean cooked chicken, steak or salmon. If you want to eat a protein-based snack, go for 20g of nuts (a small handful) or 55g (two tablespoons) of reduced fat hummus.

Try our high-protein hot spiced eggs

For the dairy section, it’s also two to three servings a day. This includes 120g–150g (an individual pot) of low fat yoghurt, 125ml (about half a glass) of semi skimmed milk and 30g (about the size of two thumbs) of reduced fat cheddar or brie.

What about treats?

The BNF does not recommend eating foods rich in sugars and fats and, if consumed, to be limited to small servings. Examples of a small treat includes four small squares of chocolate, a couple of small biscuits or a small bag of crisps.

It’s hard to find issue with the BNF’s evidence-based guide to portions and it’s well worth finding out more from www.nutrition.org.uk/findyourbalance

Or, if you’d like to stick a copy of our HFG portion guide on your fridge, download and print one here.