The Ugly Truth About Food Serving Sizes

carrot cake ice creamYou know those serving sizes on food labels are baloney, right? Well according to a new study, hardly anyone uses those guidelines or even knows what they mean. We're consuming about twice the recommended amount of soda, soup, ice cream, and cooking spray. The average serving is the food equivalent of a closet full of tiny clothes that you no longer fit into but that you're keeping around to remind you of your "ideal" size. 

How big is the difference? Check out the photos below to compare recommended serving sizes with actual portions.

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Let's compare the printed serving size of Campbell's Chicken Noodle Soup with the amount most people actually eat -- a full can (Lego man used for scale). Keep in mind, according to what people reported in the survey, the "actual" serving sizes were not huge. It's not like these people are gluttons.

campbell's chicken noodle soup
Serving size: 1/2 cup, 890mg sodium (37%DV)

This serving just makes me feel sad.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

campbell's chicken noodle soup
Realistic serving size: full can, 2,390 mg sodium (the full DV)

A full meal, but no more salt for you for the rest of the day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now let's see how much "fat-free" creamer people are putting into their coffee compared with how much the label thinks they should be adding.

coffee mate coffee creamer
Serving size: about 1 1/2 teaspoons, 10 calories, almost no fat

Just a pinch!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

coffee mate coffee creamer
Realistic serving size: 2 tablespoons, 50 calories, 1.6g saturated fat
This is how much creamer most people actually use -- 2 tablespoons.

Guess what? Two tablespoons of half-and-half contain 40 calories and 2 g saturated fat. So you might as well use the good stuff instead of sad, supposedly fat-free powder. Apparently what makes it fat-free is the imaginary amount you're expected to use!

 

 

 

And now it's time for a treat -- some ice cream! How much do you typically serve yourself?

haagen dazs
Serving size: 1/2 cup, 210 calories, 10g fat, 6g saturated fat

 

This is how much ice cream Haagen-Dazs tells you to eat. You will finish it in about two bites. (Note that this ice cream bowl is much smaller than the soup bowl above.)

 

 

 

 

 

haagen dazs
Realistic serving size: 1 cup, 420 servings, 20g fat, 12g saturated fat

 

And this is how much we're more likely to serve ourselves. That's over half the DV of saturated fat.

 

 

 

 

 

 

In conclusion, serving size information is not super helpful, and you're going to have to do some math. At least Coca-Cola calls its 20oz bottle a full serving. Thanks for telling the truth, Coke! But even they could make their  labels a little clearer. Do you know how grams of sugar translate into teaspoons? When asked how many teaspoons the 65g of sugar in a 20oz Coke would fill, most people guess 1 to 6. It's actually a little over 13 (grams tend to be a bit abstract, obviously).

Why don't serving sizes reflect what people actually eat? Wouldn't that be more beneficial? It could be because telling us explicitly how much fat, sugar, and sodium we're really consuming is bad marketing. That sobering dose of reality might make you think twice before pulling that can off the shelf.

Do you wish serving sizes were more realistic?


Images via Joyosity/Flickr and Adriana Velez.

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