Serving size matters – What you need to know and why

Serving size matters – What you need to know and why

Everything you need to know about serving size

Serving size matters because how much of what you eat is equally as important as what you eat.  They are designed to help you know how much is enough.  The federal government, with help from you, determines serving size.

Once you understand serving sizes, you can use them to make better-informed, healthier choices at mealtime. 

Have you ever wondered what a serving size is?  Do you think serving size is the same thing as a portion?  Have you noticed there are serving sizes on packaged foods?  Why do you need to know about serving size? This post will answer these questions for you.

What is a serving size?

Believe it or not, what you eat impacts serving sizes.  People like us (the American public) help determine serving sizes through federal food surveys administered by the FDA.  From these surveys, the FDA averages the results to determine a Reference Amount Customarily Consumed (RACC).  Essentially, RACC is the amount of a food eaten in a single sitting and is the serving size. 

man-eating-cooked-noodle and meatballs
Serving sizes are determined as the amount of a food eaten in a single sitting. (Note: I do not recommend eating and texting)

Once the serving size is determined, the FDA requires that the references amounts be expressed in household units.  Household measurements include cups, ounces, grams, pieces, slices, or numbers.  An example of when numbers are used would be “20 pieces”.  Other examples include 1 slice or 1/4 pizza.

As required by law, the serving size is on the product’s Nutrition Facts, or food label for packaged foods (see picture below).  These rules are designed to help make healthy decisions easier for you.

Are portions and serving size the same thing?

No, not exactly.  Generally, a portion is how much of a food you eat at one time.  In contrast, the serving size is a standardized amount of food.  The FDA updated regulations for packaged goods recently to try to align serving sizes and portion sizes better. 

As time has passed, people are eating larger portions.  Recently, the FDA modified rules around serving sizes to better align with portion size.  For example, a 20-ounce drink had 2.5 servings per bottle before, whereas the serving size is now 1 bottle. Think about it, most people consume the entire bottle in a single sitting.

Because of these changes, MyPlate now uses portions.  MyPlate is the current nutrition guide published by the USDA Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion.  MyPlate replaced the USDA’s MyPyramid guide in 2011. 

Packaged foods still have serving sizes.  See the image above where the serving size is 2/3 cup or 55 grams.

Both portions and serving sizes are important for figuring out how much of a product you should be consuming. 

Smiling Flask with orange liquid

Food Scientists take portion and serving size into account when developing food products.

Understanding Serving Sizes on Packaged Foods for healthier eating

The next time you eat a bowl of ice cream or drink a glass of milk, look at the label.  What is the serving size?  Are you eating more or less than the serving size?  When you sit down to eat, your portion is what are what you eat that time which can be less or more than a serving size.

When trying to maintain a healthy lifestyle, it is important to know whether you are eating more or less of the serving size.

For example, when I eat ice cream, I try to limit myself to half a serving. I try to limit the amount of added sugar I am eating to 6 grams or less per meal.  On the other hand, when I am eating oatmeal, I prefer to eat more than a full serving. 

When trying to maintain a healthy lifestyle, it is important to know whether you are eating more or less of the serving size.

You should minimize the amount of ultra-processed foods that you eat and maximize fruits and vegetables. 

When I start eating a new food product, I will use my measuring cups, spoons or scale to see exactly what one serving looks like.  You can do this too.  Since serving sizes are in standard household measurements, try this method.  You may be surprised like I was.

Can you eat more than one serving? 

Yes, the number servings that you consume are dependent on you.  The serving size may be more or less than the amount you should eat, depending on your age, weight, gender, and lifestyle.  In addition, depending on how much you choose to eat, your portion size may or may not match the serving size.

You should note that there are some foods that you should eat more of and some where you should try to limit your consumption.  In addition, minimize the amount of ultra-processed foods you consume and maximize fruits and vegetables

Girl eating bowl of fruit in cafeteria
You should minimize the amount of ultra-processed foods you consume and maximize fruits and vegetables. 

Better decisions with serving sizes

What you eat is important, but so is how much you eat.  Serving sizes are designed to guide your food decisions and help you know how much is enough.  You can use serving sizes to make healthier decisions and choices around what you eat. 

What do you think? Do you use serving sizes already? Let me know in the comments below.

References

Just Enough for You: About Food Portions.  https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/weight-management/just-enough-food-portions.  Retrieved 26 July 2020.

ChooseMyPlate.  https://www.choosemyplate.gov/.  Retrieved 26 July 2020.

Dietary Guidelines for Americans.  https://www.dietaryguidelines.gov/. Retrieved 26 July 2020.

https://www.fda.gov/food/new-nutrition-facts-label/using-nutrition-facts-label-and-myplate-make-healthier-choices. Retrieved 26 July 2020.

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