This article was originally published in a SRAS Sweet Bites newsletter and was written by the editor Nicole Senior.
Increasing portion sizes have been described as a contributing factor to excess energy consumption and weight gain. Unlike the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating and New Zealand Eating and Activity Guidelines, the British Eatwell Guide (that looks like a plate) has limited quantitative food group advice. The British Nutrition Foundation (BNF) set out to provide portion size guidance for a comprehensive range of foods and has produced a publicly available set of resources called ‘Find your balance-get portion wise’ available at nutrition.org.uk
Bridget Benelam and Martin Wiseman from the University of Southampton are the authors of a journal article published in the journal of the British Nutrition Foundation, Nutrition Bulletin.
The portions recommended are based on an average adult with a daily energy allowance of 2000 calories – the amount estimated for an average, healthy weight, adult woman.
General suggested portions
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 spreads and oils: small amounts
Different portions for different eating occasions
One feature different to other portion guidance systems is that the recommendations for two food groups (starchy carbohydrates and protein foods) include more specific options based on meal size, i.e.
Less than 200kcal- for lighter meals and breakfast
e.g. 2 biscuits (45g) shredded wheat type cereal 150kcals
More than 200kcal- mostly for main meals
e.g. 200g roast potatoes (about 4 small) 322kcal; 180g cooked pasta 236kcal
Less than 150kcal- snacks
e.g. 1 crumpet (50g) 104kcal; 3 rice cakes (21g) 81kcal
“Choose 3-4 portions of starchy carbohydrate foods a day – you could have one with each meal and could also include snack-sized portions. Those that are 200kcal or more tend to be the things you would have as a main meal, and those that are less than 200kcal for lighter meals or breakfast.”
Less than 200kcal – for lighter meals and breakfasts
120g grilled chicken breast 178kcal; 2 eggs 172kcal; 100g cooked lean mince 157kcal
More than 200kcal – mostly for main meals
130g Grilled rump steak 310kcal; 2 meat sausages grilled 265kcal
This grouping by energy content and meal size is a more flexible approach and sends the message that portions can and should differ according to the eating occasion.
Use of household and hand measures
The resource provides practical household and hand measures as an alternative to weighing foods, for example:
Examples of portion size- summary list
“For each portion size we have given the weight in grams, the calorie content and a practical way of measuring it, unless it is something that comes ready portioned like a bagel, a sausage or a can of tuna…If you use the hand measures we give, portion sizes will vary with the size of your hands and so, generally, bigger people will automatically get bigger portions and smaller people will get smaller portions.”
Differences with Australian Guide to Healthy Eating (AGHE)
The British Nutrition Foundation (BNF) portions are slightly different than the AGHE recommended serve sizes. The most obvious difference is the size of the “starchy carbohydrate” portions, which are larger than the AGHE “grain (cereal)” foods. However, the daily recommended servings are also fewer: 3-4 portions in the UK vs 6 serves a day in the AGHE. And, BNF includes potatoes with grain foods whereas in the AGHE potatoes are in with vegetables. Helpfully for cooks, dry/raw weights and measures are given for grain foods such as rice and pasta as well as cooked.
Comparison of British and Australian portion guidance
Composite foods (foods that are made up of more than one food group) have their own section in the full portion list. This is helpful because many meals contain more than one food group, posing a challenge for tracking food group intake. Practical cooking advice is also given, including how to incorporate convenience products in a healthy way.
An example of such spaghetti Bolognese is given:
Treats (foods high in fat, salt or sugars and sugary drinks)
The summary graphic does not include treats but specific guidance is given in the booklet and full size portion list, i.e
“…if you do eat them than its best to keep portion sizes small- around 100-150kcal.
… sugary drinks are included in this group- these can contribute a lot of sugar and calories- its best to choose drinks that don’t contain added sugar.”
How the resource was developed and funded
The resource development process was independently managed by academics, Public Health England, and UK Department of Health and Social Care but financially supported by several British food companies and food retailers demonstrating successful intersectoral collaboration.
A link to the original article from Sugar Research Advisory Service can be found here.
Last modified: January 26, 2022