Have you ever looked at the nutrition facts on a bag of chips and laughed at the number of proposed servings? Knowing how much you’re “supposed” to eat can be confusing. Serving sizes can be a helpful guide, but they’re not a hard and fast rule. Understanding how to read a nutrition label can be a good place to start when picking your portion size.
Serving size vs. portion size
First things first, let’s talk about the difference between a serving and a portion. A serving size is a standardized amount of food. The “serving” on a nutrition label is based on the RACC (Reference Amount Customarily Consumed), as defined by the FDA. A portion, on the other hand, is the amount of food you choose to consume. This is not necessarily the same amount as the defined serving of a given food.
Picking your portion size
Servings sizes are developed to reflect the amount people typically eat and drink in today’s world. Tools like MyPlate use serving sizes to recommend the amount of food you should consume. Looking at servings on a nutrition facts panel and using tools like MyPlate can be helpful in determining a portion to consume, but it’s more important to be mindful of your hunger and to understand your individual dietary needs. Serving sizes are often recommend using ounces, grams or cups. If you don’t feel like measuring out your food at home, try using a cheat sheet like this one published by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. These reference size can help you estimate the size or quantity of a food in a serving size.
There are many factors to consider when determining how much we should eat. Personal health goals, activity level, stage of life, and current health status are just some of the factors you may want to think about. The most important consideration when planning a portion size is to ensure you’re getting the nutrients your body needs. When it comes to portions, listen to your body, and consider MyPlate’s portions as a guideline.
Calorie needs decrease with age, but nutrient needs actually increase. Seeking out nutrient-dense calories is one of the best ways to ensure you meet nutrition goals without exceeding caloric needs.
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This post was written by Heather Sachs. Heather is a Registered Dietitian with a Masters degree in Clinical Nutrition. She has more than 15 years of experience combining her knowledge in food, nutrition, and regulatory affairs as well as translating science into impactful brand communication. Heather is currently Blue Apron’s Director of Regulatory Affairs.