The Scary Truth About Serving Sizes

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.

Related Stories:

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10-Year-Old Boys Are Experimenting With Bulimia



Photo credit: dennis


Jim Ven
Jim Venabout a year ago

thanks for sharing.

Sheri P.
Sheri P6 years ago

there is way too much sodium in nearly all processed food! and we are eating way too much food in general. why don't we go back to the portion sizes of the 70's? would that be such a bad thing? eating less costs less also so it's a win/win! eat less, weigh less, save more!

Lika S.
Lika P6 years ago

I understand where the idea is coming from to update to the current serving sizes. but, I really think that awareness to what should be eaten and how to prepare it or how to make it healthier would be more helpful. For example, if you're going to open a can of chicken noodle soup, add a bunch of frozen veggies to make it healthier, and it will cut the sodium as well. Now you can stretch the soup for 2.5 servings, be more full, and so you're more satisfied.

Mandi A.
Amanda A6 years ago

Thank you

Misty Stahl
Misty Stahl6 years ago

I think controlling serving sizes are important. I don't think people need super-size meals. I think that is why there is so much more obesity now then there was then. I do like the idea of labeling food correctly & honestly. It is important to know what you are putting in your body and how much.

Aimee Polekoff
Aimee Polekoff6 years ago

It's hard to check serving sizes when college food just gets served without any indication of what's in it.

The trick is to just eat less. Of course, some of these serving sizes really are tiny, or packaged strangely. Why is a microwavable soup more than one serving? Who would only eat half of it, and how would someone save the rest (especially for someone living in a college dorm)?

Cheryl B.
Cheryl B6 years ago


Lara Kinast
Lara Kinast6 years ago

I agree with this. I think we do eat too much in the west, but I do wish that when I read the nutritional info on a can or box of food, the info was for the entire can of soup, beans, tinned pasta, etc... in the case of cookies, crackers, or chips it would make sense to have the information reflect the number of calories (and other nutritional info) in each cookie, cracker, etc... much easier to plan that way. Also, it would be nice if packaged food declared how many "suggested" servings were contained inside each package. I do think changing the packaging information would make people reconsider what they eat, and how much they eat.

alison johncox
alison johncox6 years ago

Most of us eat well over the recommended serving size. I am from Canada and a good percentage of our population is overweight. The U.S also has 60% of its citizens who are overweight. Why not get people to pay more attention to serving sizes to help reduce obesity and heart disease and a number of other diseases linked to being overweight? Demand for healthier food products from food companies. There is no reason for one serving of any food to have 70% of sodium's daily allowance to be in it. We have changed real clothing sizes to vanity sizes which pretty much allows ourselves to be in denial of our real size. It's doing no one any favors. Changing serving sizes should not be in accordance with the amount usually eaten by a mostly over weight society. We should change serving sizes in accordance with what is healthiest for us.

Deanna J.
Deanna J6 years ago

They should really have to show the amount of calories on the entire container. I mean, people constantly mis-read labels and assume that that massive bag of chips has very few calories, when in reality they could have eaten a double-whopper and consumed less calories.