Portion control means choosing a healthy amount of a certain food. Portion control helps you get the benefits of the nutrients in the food without overeating and is key to controlling or reversing weight gain.

Portion control is important to cancer survivors because it helps with the following issues during treatment:

  • Digestion of food
  • Avoiding gaining or losing weight
  • Maintaining energy throughout the day
  • Controlling blood sugar levels

What is the right portion?

Your food needs depend on your age, height, and other factors. Those needs may change during cancer treatment, when it is important to prevent weight loss that may make you unable to follow the treatment plan. It’s easy to misjudge portion size so here are some helpful ways to figure out how many servings are on your plate.

  • Measure how much the bowls, glasses, cups, and plates you usually use hold. Example: Pour your breakfast cereal into your regular bowl. Then, pour it into a measuring cup. How many cups of cereal do you eat each day?
  • Measure a fixed amount of some foods and drinks to see what they look like in your glasses and plates. Example: Measure 1 cup of juice to see what 1 cup of liquid looks like in your favorite glass.

How many portions do I need of certain foods?

Eating a variety of foods can help reduce your risk of cancer and cancer treatment side effects. Balancing the portion sizes of your food is the next step. The amount of certain foods you need to eat depends on your age, gender, and level of physical activity as well as your medical condition. As your physical activity level increases, so does your suggested number of daily portions. For adults who get less than 30 minutes of physical activity per day, here are some suggested daily portion goals:

Food Group Suggested Daily Portions
Dairy 3 cups
Vegetables 2 ½ to 3 cups
Fruits 1 ½ to 2 cups
Grains 3 to 4 ounce equivalents
Protein Foods 5 ½ to 6 ounce equivalents
Oils 5 to 7 teaspoons

How can I make sure I eat the correct portions?

Estimate your portions.

Use the visual cues in this chart to “eyeball” your portions.



Looks Like

Chopped Vegetables 1⁄2 cup 1⁄2 baseball
Raw Leafy Vegetables (such as lettuce) 1 cup 1 baseball or fist for average adult
Fresh Fruit 1 medium piece 1 baseball
1⁄2 cup chopped 1⁄2 baseball
Dried Fruit 1⁄4 cup 1 golf ball
Pasta, Rice, Cooked Cereal 1⁄2 cup 1⁄2 baseball
Red Meat, Poultry, Seafood 3 oz. (boneless cooked weight from 4 oz. raw) Deck of cards
Dried Beans 1⁄2 cup cooked 1⁄2 baseball
Nuts 1⁄3 cup Level handful for average adult
Cheese 1½ oz. 4 dice or two 9-volt batteries

Source: American Institute for Cancer Research, adapted from the USDA

Section your plate.

Your plate should reflect the following portions:

  • 1/2 plate fruits and vegetables: Choose a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables to get a wide range of nutrients.
  • 1/4 plate proteins: Choose lean proteins because they are better for your heart and waistline.
  • 1/4 plate grains: Try to make 1/2 of your grains whole grain because they are good for your heart, and the fiber helps keep you full longer. Note: Yams, potatoes, and corn should be included on this side of your plate. Even though they are considered vegetables, they are high in starch.

Eat smart when dining out.

Restaurant portions are often more than a typical serving. Asking for a to-go box for your food can help you not overeat. You can put half of your food in the box and put it away, finishing the smaller portion left on your plate.

Eat smart when dining at home.

If you are eating in, make your plate in the kitchen and don’t have serving bowls at the table with you. It’s tempting to eat more when food is in reach.

Use smaller plates for your food. A normal portion of food looks small on a large plate, making you feel under-served.

Look at your plate and ask the following:

  • Is half of the plate fruits and vegetables?
  • Are the grains whole grains?
  • What kind of meat did I choose? Is it lean and cooked in a healthy way, or is it fatty and fried?
  • Are my dairy foods low-fat or fat-free choices?

Related Resources

Nutrition Tips for Managing Weight Gain