Portion Distortion

plate full of food

It is a well known fact that portion sizes have increased over the years. Many restaurants offer huge servings and many beverages come in virtual vats. Most of us know the portions we are served when dining out are more than our bodies need.

 What is “portion distortion”

“Portion Distortion” is when over-sized portions of food look normal and this is often the result of people becoming accustomed to the servings received in restaurants. Sometimes re-learning what a portion is and how to estimate it accurately (without the need for constantly weighing or measuring) is very helpful.

How much should we be eating?

Eating too much food is one issue, but what about the foods we may not be eating enough of? Eating the right portions of foods helps us get enough of the things we do need (such as fibre, protein, vitamins and minerals) and not too much of the things we already have plenty of (such as calories and refined carbohydrates). The picture below is a helpful visual to know roughly how to divide up the different food groups on a plate. Half of our plate should be made up of non-starchy vegetables, such as salad, asparagus, green or yellow beans, zucchini or eggplant.

diabetic plate division

Not all vegetables are created equal

Canada’s Food Guide classifies all vegetables together; including ones that have as many carbohydrates as bread, pasta and grains such as rice.  We find it helpful to count ‘starchy vegetables” (such as potatoes, yams, sweet potatoes, winter squash, peas and corn) the same as other ‘carbs”. So when choosing vegetables, reach for the non-starchy ones (all the others!), as these have less than 1/3 the carbs as the starchy vegetables.

Canada’s Food Guide made easy

Many people find Canada’s Food Guide confusing, so let’s have a look at how to know if you are getting enough from each food group.

CFG portions

Start by finding your age and gender, then read down through each coloured stripe. Each stripe represents a different food group. Each food group gives us special nutrients so each group is important:

Types of nutrients in each food group

Vegetables and Fruit Vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates, including fibre and natural sugar
Grain Products Vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates (including fibre if whole grain)
Milk and Alternatives Vitamins (especially A and D), minerals (including calcium and phosphorus) and protein. Milk and yogurt also contain carbohydrate from natural sugar (lactose)
Meat and Alternatives Vitamins (especially B12), minerals (including zinc and iron) and protein. Legumes contain carbohydrate as starch and fibre

For each stripe, find your number of suggested servings, or portions. By knowing the number of servings you need and the size of a Canada Food Guide serving, you can aim to get the nutrients you need.

Canada Food Guide Serving Sizes

Vegetables and Fruit ½ cup fresh, frozen or canned vegetables, ½ cup cooked or 1 cup raw leafy vegetables, 1 whole or ½ cup fresh, frozen or canned fruit, ½ cup unsweetened juice
Grain Products 1 slice bread, ½ pita or ½ bagel, ½ cup cooked rice, bulgur wheat or quinoa, ¾ cup hot cereal or 1 oz (30 g) cold cereal, ½ cup cooked pasta or couscous
Milk and Alternatives 1 cup milk or fortified soy milk, ¾ cup yogurt or kefir, 1.5 oz (50 g) cheese
Meat and Alternatives 2.5 oz (75 g) cooked fish, shellfish, poultry or lean meat, ¾ cup cooked legumes, ¾ cup tofu, 2 eggs, 2 Tbsp nut butter or ¼ cup nuts and seeds

Are you getting enough?

If you are like most Canadians, you are probably getting plenty of grains but not enough vegetables and fruit and milk and alternatives. Not sure? Try keeping a food diary for a few days and compare what you are eating with your needs as listed in Canada’s Food Guide.

Not all fat is bad fat

Remember that Canada’s Food Guide recommends 2 to 3 Tbsp of healthy fat every day. Healthy fats include vegetables oil such as canola, olive and soybean. These may be used for cooking or for making home-made salad dressing.  Healthy fat may also include soft non-hydrogenated margarine.

Still finding it confusing?

While Canada’s Food Guide is the best known way of counting portions, it is not the only one.  While we use the nutrition principles found in Canada’s Food Guide as the basis for your meal plan, we use the Food Exchanges to create an easy-to-use meal plan customized to your needs. The Food Exchanges take into account that starchy vegetables (like potatoes, peas and corn) have more carbohydrate than non-starchy vegetables and also use portion sizes that are much easier to remember than Canada’s Food Guide. A meal plan being based on the Food Exchanges will will help you choose lower fat protein-rich foods and the right amount of heart-healthy fats.

You will see how the meal plan helps you get enough servings of the foods you need using simple, reliable and accurate tools. Best of all, using the Food Exchanges will eliminate the need to weigh and measure food!

Want to know more?

Click on the “Contact Us” tab above to send us a note.  We’ll reply quickly and help get you on the road to healthy eating.

Barbara Allan, RD, CDE


Health Canada, Statistics Canada. Canadian Community Health Survey, Cycle 2.2, Nutrition (2004) – Nutrient Intakes From Food: Provincial, Regional and National Data Tables Volumes 1, 2 & 3 Disk.  2009. Ottawa, Health Canada Publications.



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