How to read serving sizes on nutrition labels

Natalie Stein
May 11, 2020
How to read serving sizes on nutrition labels
What is the standard for a serving size? How many serving sizes should I have? Serving sizes are designed to help us determine nutritional information in the food we buy, but the portion of a “serving size” can vary, which can lead to a lot of confusion. 

Are portion sizes the same as serving sizes? Although they sound similar, they are actually very different. A portion size is the amount of food you serve yourself for a meal or a snack. A serving size is a measured amount of food (such as a tablespoon or a fraction like 1/8th) that is the “Nutrition Facts” found on the back of food. A single portion can contain multiple servings. This is where reading the nutritional label on the back of food becomes important. 

The “serving size” is listed first, with the unit of measurement listed. Under this the “servings per container”, and is a critical thing to pay attention to. Products that often claim to be “healthy” use many small serving sizes per container to hide higher calories or the fact that they are high sodium. Be sure to compare the serving sizes to the number of calories and amount of sugar, and use a calculator if you need to!


The Tendency Towards Oversized Portions

What do the following meals have in common?

  • A sandwich and chicken noodle soup
  • Cereal with milk and a banana
  • Spaghetti and meatballs with a breadstick
  • Bean burrito with rice

They all sound like reasonable meals, but there can be a lot of serving sizes for each of these examples, which is considered one “portion”. In the old days, they were probably reasonable meals. In recent years, these meals are almost certainly unreasonable due to increases in portion sizes. If those amounts seem small, it may be because you are used to seeing way bigger portions.

Serving Sizes and Your Weight

Whether the food is healthy or unhealthy, portion sizes are always important for weight and health, and the calories in multiple serving sizes can quickly add up. A meal with nutritious foods such as a veggie sub on a whole-wheat roll, a bag of multigrain crisps, a banana, and a bottle of orange juice, can easily have 1,000 calories. Meals like that can sneakily but quickly slow weight loss! A major secret is in the portion sizes. 

It’s not always easy to choose the right foods or get the proper serving sizes, but your Lark health coach can help you. Lark Diabetes Care guides you in managing diabetes and following a healthy diabetes diet, including for weight loss. You can chat with your coach anytime, set and work towards exercise and diet goals, and get customized feedback and coaching. With motivation, reminders, and tracking features, Lark DPP and other Lark programs can help you hit exercise recommendations and is Fully CDC Recognized

Written by Natalie Stein on May 11, 2020
Exercise, Fitness & Nutrition Expert | Lark Health
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