Food Labels Explained: The Importance of Serving Size

In the last post on food labels, I talked about the importance of differentiating between “Calories and Calories from Fat”. This time I thought I’d cover something that’s (hopefully) a little bit more familiar- Serving Size. So here are 2 quick tips on how you can avoid over-eating when it comes to food servings:

1.  Do the Math with “Servings Per Container”

It may be annoying, but it’s really important to read the “Servings Per Container” description on the container/bag of food you’re buying. Servings Per Container is important because it is the multiple you should use when you want to know the total  calories/carbohydrates/fats in any food purchase. Take for example, Sobe Life Water (pictured below):

Notice the “Servings Per Container” number? It’s 2.5. So that means that all the other items listed on this label have to be multiplied by 2.5 for you to know how much you’re really drinking when you finish a bottle of Sobe. What’s the impact of this? There are not 6 grams of carbs in this bottle of Sobe; there are 6 x 2.5 = 15 grams of carbs. There’s also 62.5mg of sodium (25mg x 2.5 servings) in this bottle of Sobe, not just 25mg.

So be careful! Food companies have gotten really slick; they understand that consumers want to see small numbers when it comes to carbs and calories, so they’re upping the serving size multiple to decrease the calories/carbs/fats number displayed on packaging. They will also sometimes put the serving size amounts in fractions or decimals (as seen here) because they know these things will scare off the typical consumer. But you are not the typical consumer! Do the math and understand Servings per Container.

2. Think About How Much You Really Eat

Whenever I’m making a recipe, I have to pay attention to the proportions I need- a tablespoon, a teaspoon, etc. Cooking has made me very aware of just how much I think I’m eating vs. how much I’m actually eating. Why does this matter? Because if you think you’re eating less than you actually are, you’re probably consuming more calories/fats/carbs than you need. This is especially obvious when you look at “Serving Size” on your food label. Take for example this Honey Nut Cheerios label:

Check out the “Serving Size” here: 3/4 of a cup. Now be honest, do you really only eat 3/4 of a cup of cereal? Do you know how much you pour into your bowl? Do you use a measuring cup? If you don’t then you might want to start!

Also “Serving Size” is directly related to the “Servings Per Container”. The reason why this box can say 22 “Servings per Container” is because it assumes you’re only eating 3/4 of a cup each morning for breakfast. And as I mentioned in #1 above, the Servings per Container number affects all the other numbers below. So the next time you pick up something at the supermarket that says something weird like 7/8ths of a cup, take a step back and just ask yourself: How much do I really eat? Will I really stick to the Serving Size for this food as labeled? If you’re still unsure, invest in a measuring cup!

SHARE: Does “Serving Size” and “Servings per Container” confuse you? Do you think food labels can be improved?



About ChicFitChef

My "deserted island" checklist: a BCBG dress, a healthy & diabetic-friendly meal and a few workout DVDs. ;-)
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8 Responses to Food Labels Explained: The Importance of Serving Size

  1. For foods such as pasta, quinoa, bulgur, etc it would be helpful to have the servings in dry and cooked units since it can vary a lot. I can’t remember exactly when/on which package I noticed this, but I think the package gave the serving size in cooked pasta cups and it wasn’t easy to convert it to dry pasta units therefore encouraging over eating!!!

  2. Pingback: Food Labels Explained: 3 Tips on “Calories” vs. “Calories From Fat” | ChicFitChef™

  3. Pingback: 3 Reasons Why Government Should Regulate Sugar (CFC Opinion) | ChicFitChef™

  4. This post is over a year old, but SO RELEVANT right now with serving sizes being changed on labels! I’ll be linking back to you in my post- thanks for the info! 🙂

  5. Pingback: Food Labels Set to Become About 10% Less Confusing | Love. Cook. Study.

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