Are Serving Sizes Really Worth The Hype?

There's a lot that goes into healthy eating. Depending on your goals, you're likely looking at calories, nutrition, macros, and more. But when plating food or looking at packaged meals, portion and serving sizes also come into play. With so much information to take in, it's easy to wonder: Are serving sizes really worth the hype? The short answer is yes.

First, let's distinguish between portion sizes and serving sizes. Put simply, a serving size is a standardized amount of food that is used to "quantify recommended amounts," per Eat Right. They are used with MyPlate food groups and usually suggest the standard amount of a given food that people usually eat for Nutrition Facts labels. On the other hand, portion sizes are all about choice. Your particular portion size is the amount that you put on your plate, and it can be more or less than a recommended serving. While the label may suggest eating 16 Pringles in a single serving, you may opt for the full tube, for instance. 

Focusing on serving sizes, though, you may want to pay a bit more attention to them when looking at packaged meals or ingredients to ensure that you have an understanding of what you're eating. Keep scrolling to learn how portion sizes can guide your eating habits.

Be sure to check nutrition labels

It is important to understand serving sizes because containers often hold more than a single serving, per Premier Health. So if you're consuming an entire tube of Pringles, for example, you need to remember to multiply the calories, sodium, and other relevant numbers by the number of servings you consumed. 

In an effort to get Nutrition Fact labels to more closely match what people are actually consuming, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) bases serving sizes on reported eating habits. By law, serving sizes reflect what people eat — not the healthy amount that they should be eating. "The fact is, for many foods, we're eating larger portions than we used to. And the changes to the Nutrition Facts label reflect that," said Jillonne Kevala, Ph.D., a supervisory chemist at the FDA. 

The goal is to help people better understand their caloric and nutritional intake. Douglas Balentine, Ph.D., the director of FDA's Office of Nutrition and Food Labeling, explained on the FDA website that serving sizes need to change. "We now have much more recent food consumption data, and it showed us that some serving sizes on food labels should change," he said. All in all, when tracking your eating habits, noting serving sizes and other details on Nutrition Fact labels is key to understanding what you're taking in.