If you’ve ever tried to lose weight, you understand the importance of portion sizes. Whether you are dishing out ice cream, crackers, or soup, the serving size labeled on the item can make or break your choice.
Most serving sizes for packages were created in the 1970s, a time vastly different from the super-sized world we live in today. Restaurant portions have grown almost 6X in the past four decades and so have our expectations of what a portion really is.
One of my favorite examples is crackers. I recently picked up a box of whole-wheat crackers this past weekend from a brand that will remain anonymous. At first glance these crackers seemed like a great product: very few ingredients, no added sugars, 70 calories, and 3 grams of fat per serving. I almost stuck them into my cart until I realized the serving size was 4! 4 crackers!? Who eats just 4 crackers? I eat 4 crackers while I am plating my hummus to go with the crackers. A serving size of 10-12 is probably more realistic, making my crackers more of a meal than a quick snack before dinner.
Another notorious offender is canned soup, which often has 2-2.5 servings per container. Think about the last time you had a can of soup. Did you separate it into 2.5 servings or did you eat the whole can? While most canned soups are low in calories, they are often sky high in sodium. Enjoying an entire can of soup (even those listed as low-sodium) can set you back a whole days worth of sodium guidelines if you aren’t careful.
Centers for Science in the Public Interest, of McDonald’s Happy Meal, caramel coloring, and Food Day fame, has asked the FDA to re-examine portion sizes to make them more realistic to what consumers eat. While food companies probably won’t jump on board with reformatting their serving sizes, you can be more mindful of them when food shopping.
Next time you are buying pre-packaged items like cereal, pasta, crackers, or cookies, take a moment to notice the serving size. Do you typically eat more than 3/4 cups of cereal? If so, calculate the nutrition facts to accurately represent that. Yes, this can be a tedious process, but once you see what portion sizes look like for your favorite items you can make wiser choices.
If you are still hungry after your first cup of soup or quartet of crackers, then add foods that have larger portion sizes. Fruits and vegetables are not only filling, they are also nutrient dense. This means they have a lot of nutrition for very little calories. A side salad and a cup of soup makes for a satisfying lunch without adding more sodium.
What’s the craziest portion size you’ve ever seen?
Alexandra Caspero, MS, RD, CLT is the phenomenal dietitian, exercise physiologist and founder of Delicious Knowledge. Specializing in weight management, sports nutrition, and plant-based diets, Alexandra shares real-life advice with clients and blog followers on a regular basis to help them successfully meet their healthy eating goals. Follow on Facebook and Twitter.