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The idiocy of serving sizes


Fat Guy
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Maybe this is too easy a target, but can we please discuss the serving sizes on US "Nutrition Facts" labels. They really seem to be all over the map, in most cases unrealistically small, and not particularly useful.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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But I agree the serving sizes are ridiculously small, like 20g of potato crisps !!! :shock:

Is that so ridiculous? The average bag of crisps here seems to be 25g, and assuming your wife steals a few, a 20g serving seems about right. To be fair, in nutritional information on crisp packets here, the serving is assumed to be the bag. The larger bags are, of course, designed for sharing...

Like speed limits, I consider the suggested serving sizes to be a reasonable target for healthy living rather than an absolute rule!

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I never could figure that out myself, since the serving sizes usually seem small to me, and I'm not a large person (and I have a not-particularly large appetite). Maybe they're sized to be easily multipled, since many people seem to have a harder time with division than multiplication. Most likely, the quantities just strike the people who determine serving size as nice, tidy amounts, and they like that.

Michaela, aka "Mjx"
Manager, eG Forums
mscioscia@egstaff.org

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I agree totally with what you say about indicative information, so I think that nutritional facts in weight or volume are fine.

Maybe potato crisps are a bad example :laugh: Maybe heavier crisps like nachos and wasabi peas are a better example.

It's just the "serving size" calculation that seems so irrational...

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Surely I'm not the only one cynical enough to believe that under-sized serving sizes are purposefully designed to make people think they're consuming fewer calories than they are? Especially on a high-calorie-density item like potato chips, the intention seems to be for people look at the label and say, "Gee, only 120 calories per serving!" And then proceed to eat 4 servings at a time.

Matthew Kayahara

Kayahara.ca

@mtkayahara

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What drives me up a wall are the foods that are labeled as having two servings in a package, despite the fact that they are the kind of thing that nobody in their right mind would share, like a frozen burrito or a styrofoam cup of ramen noodles.

"There is nothing like a good tomato sandwich now and then."

-Harriet M. Welsch

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I think its also to make the nutritional information on the label less alarming to people who actually check the nutritional information. I was looking at a 1 lb.package of kielbasa and the nutritional information made it look like kielbasa was downright good for you, assuming , of course, that you believed the label which said that the average serving size was 2 oz. and the 1 lb. package would make 8 servings. Lays is much more realistic on one of their bags of Lay's Classic potato chips. Next to the information on one serving (16 chips) they list the nutritional values for the whole bag.

As for cheese, the reccommended serving, 1 oz., is about what I eat while assembling a plate of cheese and crackers for a snack.

"A fool", he said, "would have swallowed it". Samuel Johnson

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Does anyone remember back in the early 80's when sodium was the "big evil"? Campbell's soups came out with new labels for thier soups boldy proclaiming "NOW 1/3 LESS SODIUM!!!!" And if you looked at the label, you saw that they changed the serving size from 12 fl oz to 8 fl oz.....

I don't see why you couldn't express fats, sodium, etc in percentages of the entire product.

Maybe it is assumed people want to know how MUCH fats/sodium/etc they are consuming per product, i.e x mg of this, and x mg of that.

Can't be done--it all depends on how much of the product you consume....

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I think of "serving size" as "unit of measurement" rather than "the amount I eat" and in that sense it's helpful. Most charts give both volumes and weights for their "serving sizes" so I weigh out what I'm going to eat and figure out nutritional values that way. One thing that is convenient about serving sizes is that they tend to be alike across types of foods -- that is, most chips/crackers/nuts will use one ounce as a serving. So regardless of whether one ounce is really a "serving" for me, at least I can easily compare, say, Triscuits with Wheat Thins or Fritos.

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In Canada, serving size on the label is regulated. For example, here crisps would be 40-60 g (up to the manufacturer). In some cases (notably "The reference amount of the food is less than 100 g or 100 mL and the package contains less than 200% of that reference amount") the entire package is considered a single serving, and the data must be given for the entire package. So a bag of crisps that is 75g (common here) would be considered a single serving and must have the data for the full serving).

Lots of if ands or buts, but I think mostly our sizes on the pack are relatively reasonable since these newer rules were instituted.

Edited by Paul Kierstead (log)
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In Australia, it's mandated that nutritional packaging should have a per 100g/100mL listing as well as a per servings listing. This makes it incredibly easy to figure out the percentage fat/carb/protein in a given food and I don't know why they don't do that here. For example, it's pretty easy from a glance to distinguish between the 33%, 35% & 40% whipping cream in Australia. It's pretty much impossible here.

PS: I am a guy.

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One of my guilty prepared food pleasures is Bob Evans Mac and Cheese. I used to buy it every now and then, especially when DH was away (he doesn't like Mac and Cheese!)

I'd usually eat half one night and half the next day for lunch.

Then, I looked at the nutrition label. 330 calories per serving. Cool!

Whoops! The bowl contains SIX servings! So, my portion per meal was nearly 1,000 calories. Yikes!

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  • 2 weeks later...

Here's something interesting -- on the bag of frozen french fries I bought recently, a "serving" is defined as "3 oz. (85 g) -- about 17 pieces." Seventeen fries seemed like a pretty generous serving size given the calorie count, so I measured out three ounces. It turns out that three ounces is more like nine fries. I suppose if one picked out all the smallest fries, one could come closer to 17 in three ounces, but that's almost 50 percent off. Who comes up with those equivalencies?

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Claims about fat content can be bizarre, products often boast that they are 'low in fat' as well as salt and whatever else is non grata at the time. I've seen packs of frozen peas labelled 'low in fat', I wasn't aware that peas were generally considered a fatty food.... Perhaps manufacturers might soon add claims such as 'arsenic free'. This would be accurate (I hope) and just as useful to the consumer!

Apologies for the cynicism!

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