Happy Herbivore Blog

Portion & Serving Sizes

Posted by: Lindsay S. Nixon |

Category: FAQ

We hear the term portion control all the time. But what exactly is a portion and how do we control it? Is that the same as a serving size? No, they are not but they are related. Portion control usually refers to getting a portion size back in line with or close to a serving size.

A serving size is the recommended amount of food to be eaten according to the FDA . This is what is on nutrition labels. It can be measured in units (like cans or slices) or measurements (like grams or ounces). A portion size is the actual amount of food that we eat in one sitting. For example, if I ate 2 small apples for a snack that would be 2 servings of apples but one portion.

Understanding serving sizes can be tricky, while there are standards, there are also exceptions. For example, the reference amount of a soda (or water) is 240mL (or 8oz) and should be labled as 1 serving. But a 12oz can of soda says 1 serving too, and it is 344mL, how can that be?

Manufacturers are given an option of labelling some items as 1 serving, even if they are above the standard serving size, if it is reasonable that the entire item can be consumed in one setting (there is some other math involved as well, like the percentage of how much more it is compared to the standard reference amount, but I let my sister do all the math). It is with this option that an 8oz can and a 12oz can of soda can be 1 serving.

Knowing that 1 serving of a bag of berries may be 80 calories, do we really stop at just 1 serving? Actually, my sister mindlessly ate almost half the bag on a road trip. Definately more than 1 serving (more like 4) but it was only 1 portion - at least thats what she keeps telling herself. 

Another problem with portion sizes are in restaurants. If I were to order a bowl of pasta, they would bring me a huge bowl with almost 3x as much pasta as a standard serving size. Even if I boxed up half my meal, I would still be eating 1 1/2 servings!

While we normally eat more than 1 serving of things (like bread) it is when we over do it (like the berries) that is a problem. Knowing that a portion of food at a restaurant is half the battle, becuase then you are in control of your portions - even if you eat the whole bowl, at least you know you're not eating 1 serving. Being aware of what a serving is and then choosing how much we want to eat based on that, is control.

Note: serving sizes listed on a nutritional labels are not the same serving sizes used for the MyPlate nutritional guidelines.

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