Size Matters: Real Serving Sizes for Fruits and Vegetables

What are real serving sizes these days? That salad that looks like it has more spinach than Popeye could handle may not be cutting it when it comes to your daily intake of fruits and vegetables. Nutrients from fruits and vegetables are extremely important for overall health and size matters. The problem is many resources are unclear when it comes to what constitutes a real serving size. I recently began the quest to get more fruits and vegetables into my diet. But, even with a strong nutrition background, I found myself questioning if I was getting enough. I too was confused about what really counts as a serving size.

Most of us don't get our daily recommended serving sizes of fruits and vegetables because we don't know exactly what they look like. Here's how to know. Reaching for an apple the size of my fist or a handful of grapes didn’t feel like an accurate way to measure my daily intake of fruits and vegetables. After searching far and wide for the “answer” I found what many of you have already struggled with—a wide range of opinions for an “acceptable” serving size. The good news, the information below is the most accurate based on nutritionists and recent scientific studies.

The Many Benefits of Fruits and Vegetables

Fruit and vegetables are nature’s way of keeping you healthy and the nutrients almost guarantee aging gracefully, not to mention keeping our bodies healthy. Plants contain cancer-preventing compounds that help fight off dangerous, cancer causing free radicals we accrue in our cells as we get older, causing DNA damage. They provide us with nutrients that are easy for our bodies to identify and absorb, in many cases better than those isles of vitamins that have been sitting on the shelf of your local health food store for how long? You need quality nutrients to help your brain chemistry and your body run optimally.

The simple truth is that when it comes to fruit and vegetables, you can’t have too many. How many of you struggle with getting enough fruits and veggies into your diet? Many of us find excuses for avoiding the rabbit food. “Its not convenient” “it takes too much prep work”(hello, bananas are natures fruit snack with the wrapper and all!). However, for many of us, its not an excuse; its an absence of knowledge. Is that spinach salad enough, did that OJ I gulped down this morning count as one or two servings? Most people aren’t confident about what a serving size is which can contribute to your mood, energy level and overall health.

Real Serving Sizes

So is that apple, the one that’s the size of my head, one serving or four?
According to the Produce for Better Health Foundation’s State of the Plate: 2010 Study , 93.6 percent of us don’t hit our vegetable target, and 92.4 percent of us don’t hit our fruit target.’s Roxanne Webber writes “The whole confusing and vague idea of eating enough “servings” has pretty much been scrapped, and now the powers that be (the USDA, CDC, Department of Health & Human Services) are using cups.”

The debate continues to confuse us with the suggestion of 5-10 servings of fruits and vegetables everyday. That’s a wide range if you ask me. Many practitioners I work with suggest eating more greens and vegetables compared to fruit. As these don’t impact your blood sugar as much as fruits do. After sifting through research from various sources, here’s the real deal on serving sizes.

Vegetable Serving SizesMost of us don't get our daily recommended serving sizes of fruits and vegetables because we don't know exactly what they look like. Here's how to know.

Quick tip: if raw vegetables upset your stomach, try them cooked or steamed. They generally are easier to digest. If digestion is an issue and eating produce (or anything) leaves your stomach in pain, it may be time to seek out a test to see what’s really going on.

Greens, Raw: 2 cups (about two large leaves of chopped romaine)

Greens, Cooked (kale, chard, etc.): 1 cup

Celery: 1 cup diced or 2 stalks (11 to 12 inches long)

Corn: 1 cup of kernels or 1 large ear (8 to 9 inches long)

Cucumber: 1 cup sliced/chopped or about 1/2 of a medium cucumber (8 to 9 inches long)

Green Beans: 1 cup cooked (I counted: It’s about 20-22 beans)

Carrots: 12 baby carrots are well known as a source of vitamin A. In fact Twelve baby carrots have over 16,000 International Units of vitamin A. They’re also rich in minerals, fiber, and a good source of folate.

Broccoli: some say 10 florets others say three 5-inch long spears of broccoli, which both are considered a serving and have about 30 calories. If you get confused, get out a measuring cup and aim for one cup. Broccoli is an excellent source of vitamins, minerals, fiber and a number antioxidants that may be beneficial for your health.

Sweet Potato: 1 cup mashed or 1 large baked potato (about 2 1/4 inches in diameter)

Fruit Serving Sizes

Banana: one large banana (about eight inches long) is equal to one serving of fruit. Bananas are high in potassium, magnesium, B vitamins, vitamin C and fiber. One medium banana has about 100 calories.

Strawberries: Eight large strawberries is about one serving. Strawberries are high in vitamin C and potassium. Plus they’re low in calories — that serving of strawberries has less than 50 calories.

Grapes: Eating about 32 grapes should count as one serving of fruit. Some experts say 22 grapes but this depends on the size of each one. Grapes contain some iron and potassium.

Apples: One small apple (a little under three inches in diameter a little smaller than a baseball) counts as a serving of fruit. Apples have potassium, vitamins and about three grams of fiber, and one small apple has about 75 calories.

Cantaloupe: 1 cup diced or about 1/8 of a large melon

Grapefruit: 1 medium grapefruit (about 4 inches across)

Orange: 1 large orange (think softball size)

Pineapple: 1 cup chopped (a little less than 1/4 of a pineapple)

Plum: 2 medium plums

Peaches: 1 whole peach (just under three inches in diameter) also counts as a serving of fruit. Peaches are a good source of potassium, magnesium and vitamin A. One large peach has around 70 calories

Be careful with Juice! Juice does count as a fruit. According to the CDC, a cup of fruit juice does count as a serving of fruit, but nutritionists caution that you’re not getting the fiber and other good benefits of eating whole fruit. Also any added sugar makes this a no-no. You are better off with an orange or apple instead of OJ and apple juice.

Tell us how you get your daily servings of fruits and veggies!

Take Good Care,

Emily Roberts MA, LPC


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Emily Roberts MA, LPC is the clinical therapist for the Neurogistics Children’s Program. She has worked with Neurogistics for over a decade. Emily is also an award-winning author of Express Yourself: A Teen Girls Guide to Speaking Up and Becoming Who You Are, Psychotherapist, TV & Media Contributor, educational speaker and parenting consultant.  Express Yourself is available at bookstores nationwide and on Amazon. To learn more about Emily click here.




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