When was the last time you looked at a serving size on a bag of chips, bottle of soda, or can of soup and actually measured out the correct amount instead of eating the entire package? I know that I am guilty of eating more than is recommended by serving sizes, but some of them seem so small! This blog post from the New York Times examines the problem with serving sizes– and it turns out that the problem might be the serving sizes themselves.
Who determines a serving size?
All serving sizes on packaged food are dictated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which has undergone pressure for years from private interest groups urging it to reconsider and remeasure serving sizes. The NYT blog post states:
The agency regulates the serving sizes that can be listed on packages by providing food makers with detailed guidelines to follow, which list the amounts of a specific food that a person would ‘customarily consume’ in a typical sitting. But critics say these so-called reference amounts are often laughably small because they’re based in part on surveys of eating behavior that were carried out in the 1970s, when Americans ate less food and portions had not been supersized.
As someone who hadn’t even been born yet in the 1970s, it seems silly that I should regulate my food intake based on how much people were eating back then. New studies on how much people are actually eating today are definitely needed to update the serving sizes on all packaged foods.
How misleading are serving sizes?
Serving sizes can be very misleading– and that is especially true for foods that you might not even think to check the label on before consuming them, such as canned soup. While many Campbell’s and other branded condensed soups are relatively low in calories, they often contain huge amounts of sodium. When you eat 2.5 servings of the soup (one can), the sodium content can reach up to 80% of the daily recommended 2,300 milligrams.
Why should we change serving sizes? Won’t that just make people feel like they are entitled to eat more than they already do?
The purpose of a printed serving size is to give the consumer information about what they are putting into his or her body. Updating serving sizes to reflect how much people eat today may actually raise consciousness about how many calories, milligrams of sodium and grams are fat are hiding inside packaged food items. It is too easy to look at a serving size and think that the smaller numbers you see are what you are getting– conveniently forgetting that you may be eating twice or even three times the recommended amount.
Maybe in a year or two you won’t have to do math problems before every meal to figure out what is going into your body — but until then, keep the calculator handy.
Photo credit: dennis