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What's a Serving of Vegetables?

What counts as a serving of vegetables? What about fruit? Nutrition Diva sorts it all out.

By
Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS
2-minute read

 

Q. "Is there a general guideline for what counts as a serving of fruits or vegetables?  I know that 1 cup of leafy greens counts as a serving and 1/2 cup of cooked vegetables usually counts as a serving.  However, I  noticed that you list half a green bell pepper as a serving and half of a chopped bell pepper is much less than a cup.  And what about foods like grapes, apples, or whole carrots?"  

A. There's a good reason you're confused. The guidelines for fruit and vegetables servings sometimes don't make sense! To keep things simple, we usually say that a half cup of cooked or raw fruits, vegetables, or juice counts as a serving. Because they are so fluffy, it takes a cup of uncooked leafy greens like lettuce or spinach to count as a serving.

See also: Serving Sizes for Dried Fruits and Vegetables

 

But how many apples or green peppers you can fit into a measuring cup obviously depends on how small the pieces are - or how long they've been cooked. The amount of lettuce you can fit in a cup will vary greatly depending on how tightly you pack it.  And how are you supposed to measure a whole carrot or stalk of celery with a measuring cup?

Why Are Vegetable Servings So Inexact?

Serving sizes tend to be are much more precise for things like meat (3 ounces), fats (1 tablespoon), cheese (1 ounce) or grains (1/2 cup).  Because fruits and vegetables are very nutrient dense and not very energy dense, it's not important that the serving sizes be perfect.  Anywhere in the ballpark is generally good enough.

But, if you're craving a more precise  definition, the Food Exchange System developed by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (primarily to facilitate meal planning for diabetics) defines fruit and vegetable servings according to how many calories they contain.

According to that system, a serving of vegetables equals 25 calories (and 5 grams of carbohydrates) and a serving of fruit equals 60 calories (and 15 g of carbohydrates). 

See also: How to Get More Vegetables Into Your Diet

 

If you want to know exactly how many caloties and servings you're eating, you can look up foods on a calorie counter (such as CalorieCount.comMyFitnessPal.com, or SparkPeople.com) to see how much of that food equals 25 (or 60) calories. It'll be a bit different for every vegetable and fruit. 

For instance, one medium carrot equals 25 calories and one serving of vegetables. One cup of grapes equals 100 calories, so that would be about 1 1/2 servings of fruit.

About the Author

Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS

Monica Reinagel is a board-certified licensed nutritionist, author, and the creator of one of iTunes' most highly ranked health and fitness podcasts. Her advice is regularly featured on the TODAY show, Dr. Oz, NPR, and in the nation's leading newspapers, magazines, and websites. Do you have a nutrition question? Call the Nutrition Diva listener line at 443-961-6206. Your question could be featured on the show.