Hand-sized portion guide


When I write recipes or portion out my plates, I usually use hand size portions to control my calorie intake. If you have never run across this method before you might find it a little confusing, so I though I better explain it.

I first learned about hand sized portioning when I was completing my Level 1 Nutrition Coach Certification with Precision Nutrition, and I found this is a very helpful way to control my calories. And because I do make a lot of single serving dishes, it naturally found its way into my recipes, just to make it easier to make. 

Why hand-sized portions?

Well, believe it or not, actually counting calories accurately is pretty much impossible due to several reasons, but two of the biggest factors are the inaccuracy of the calorie estimations themselves (more on this in a future article), and your body's ability to absorb the nutrients or bioavailability. If you are interested to read more check out this article. Now I have to admit, I was once an avid calorie counter, in fact for an overview see my article on calorie counting. However I quickly found (ok not so quickly, it took me 3 months) that it was extremely cumbersome and annoying after a while. Not only to myself but my family as well. For example I used to carry my digital scale with me everywhere and whip it out even in restaurants, I was obsessed.

So enter hand sized portioning. It is based on some very serious science and is just as accurate as calorie counting without all the hassle. There are two basic principles that make this easy.

  1. Your hands are portable, so they go with you everywhere. With practise, it becomes easy to estimate portion size just by eyeball.

  2. Your hands are proportionate to your body size, meaning larger people have larger hands, and smaller people have smaller hands. Meaning you would eat more or less food based on your body size.

Now if you are saying, but what about calories, can we be a bit more accurate? I really need to know how many calories I am eating. I enjoy calorie math!  Well, this is simple as well. First of all let's set out the portion size by macronutrient and approximate calorie count.

  • one serving of protein = 1 palm = 20-30 grams x 4 kcal = 80-120 kcal per serving

  • one serving of carbs = 1 cupped hand = 20-30 grams x 4 kcal = 80-120 kcal per serving

  • one serving of fats = 1 thumb = 7-12 grams x 9 kcal = 63-108 kcal per serving

  • one serving of vegetables = 1 fist = we don't count vegetables as they are very high in essential nutrients but low in calories. It's nearly impossible to gain weight by eating too many vegetables. If you don't believe me just try it.

Now armed (or should I say handed) with this info we can estimate our individual calories by taking out our digital scale and actually measuring out our exact portion size based on our hand size. Once you memorise these numbers, it is so easy to estimate your calories. This handy infographic will help:

Image courtesy of   Precision Nutrition

Image courtesy of Precision Nutrition

I am a certified nutrition coach and personal trainer. If you want my help to begin eating well, drop me a line for a FREE consult. I am your coach

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