The Difference Between Serving Size and Portion Size

Knowing how to read a nutrition facts label is an important skill. However, you can still miss information even if you routinely check things like calorie counts, added sugars, and total grams of fat. Understanding serving size can be a little tricky. Here’s some information explaining the difference between serving size and portion size.

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What’s the difference between serving size and portion size?

A serving size lets you compare nutritional information between foods while portion size is the actual amount of food that you eat. “Serving size” here refers to the NLEA serving, or food label serving.

The 1990 Nutrition Labeling and Education Act (NLEA) gave the U.S. Food and Drug Administration authority to require nutrition labeling on almost all packaged foods. The FDA decides which nutritional  information is required on food packaging, such as serving size. This makes it easier for consumers to compare nutritional values, know what they’re eating, and make healthy eating choices.

The NLEA serving size is the serving size you see printed on the nutrition facts label; this serving size is determined by Reference Amounts Customarily Consumed (RACCs), which is the amount of food that the average person typically eats at a time.

That’s not always obvious. For example, canned soup usually is labeled as containing two, or “about two” servings, but research suggests that many people will eat the whole can.

Portion size just refers to the amount of food you eat at any one time. For example, if a serving size on a box of crackers is 10 pieces and you eat one cracker, your portion size would be one-tenth of a serving. If you eat 10 crackers, your portion size was one serving. If you eat 20 crackers, your portion size is two servings.

Why worry about servings?

If portion size is the actual amount that you eat, why even consider serving size?

Serving size and portion size are closely related; comparing your portion to the serving size lets you know the amount of the nutrients you’re eating. Divide the nutritional information by two if your portion size is half the serving size, multiply the nutritional information by two if your portion size is double the serving size, etc.

Also, check the number of servings in a container, especially small packages. It can be easy to consume more servings than you realize. For example, a bottled fruit smoothie may contain two servings in one relatively small bottle. This means if you drink the entire bottle, you would receive double the amounts listed on the nutrition facts, including the calories.

It’s important to remember that the food label serving size is not the same thing as recommended serving size. You should not assume that the serving size is the amount that you’re supposed to eat, because it isn’t.

Eating a healthy diet, establishing healthy eating habits (such as choosing proper portion sizes), and regular physical activity can help you maintain a normal weight and improve your overall level of health. Another easy way to improve your health and maintain wellness is scheduling regular visits with your primary care doctor.

Meet with your primary care physician at least once a year for an annual wellness exam. Request an appointment with a doctor in Northwest Arkansas today.

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