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serving size

Are You Being Tricked By Food Label Serving Sizes?

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serving-size-2I want to thank Aimee for sending me this New York Times article.  The following day I saw it on the news.  This is a very interesting topic for me, because I spend a lot of time educating those on my grocery tours about this exact thing.  The serving sizes on the boxes or bags don’t represent what we as Americans are actually eating.  I teach my clients to see how many servings are in a box and then estimate how many servings the box will last you, instead of just using the food label.

While I am a huge proponent of the manufacturers being more honest about how they label foods, I also feel strongly that consumers need to be well informed themselves, and take some of the responsibility.  If we become tuned into what 1 oz of chips looks like, 3/4 cup of cereal, 3 OZ steak, or half a cup of ice cream, we can be in more control over the amount of calories we eat.

Here is the article:

One Bowl = 2 Servings. F.D.A. May Fix That.

By WILLIAM NEUMAN

Seeking a new weapon in the fight against obesity, the Food and Drug Administration wants to encourage manufacturers to post vital nutritional information, including calorie counts, on the front of food packages.

The goal is to give people a jolt of reality before they reach for another handful of chips. But the urgency of the message could be muted by a longstanding problem: official serving sizes for many packaged foods are just too small. And that means the calorie counts that go with them are often misleading.

So to get ready for front-of-package nutrition labeling, the F.D.A. is now looking at bringing serving sizes for foods like chips, cookies, breakfast cereals and ice cream into line with how Americans really eat. Combined with more prominent labeling, the result could be a greater sense of public caution about unhealthy foods.

“If you put on a meaningful portion size, it would scare a lot of people,” said Barry Popkin, a nutrition professor at the University of North Carolina. “They would see, ‘I’m going to get 300 calories from that, or 500 calories.’ “

serving-size-3The problem is important because the standard serving size shown on a package determines all the other nutritional values on the label, including calorie counts. If the serving size is smaller than what people really eat, unless they study the label carefully they may think they are getting fewer calories or other nutrients than they are.

And if manufacturers increasingly push key nutrition facts to the front of packages – as many have begun doing – the confusion could be magnified. Rather than helping fight obesity, it may simply add to the perplexity over what makes a healthful diet.

“If people don’t understand the serving, whatever number they get for fat or calories is misleading,” said William K. Hubbard, a former F.D.A. official who consulted with the agency last year.

Consider the humble chip: most potato or corn chip bags today show a one-ounce serving size, containing a tolerable 150 calories, or thereabouts. But only the most disciplined snacker will stop at an ounce. For some brands, like Tostitos Hint of Lime, that can be just six chips.

In the real world, many people might eat two or three times that, or more. Munch half a bag of Tostitos while watching the Super Bowl and you could take in about half the 2,000 calories an average person needs in a day.

“We are actively looking at serving size and evaluating what steps we need to take,” said Barbara O. Schneeman, director of the F.D.A. office that oversees nutrition labels. “Ultimately, the purpose of nutrition labeling is to help consumers make healthier choices, make improvements in their diet, and we want to make sure we achieve that goal.”

serving_sizeThe push to re-evaluate serving size comes as the F.D.A. is considering ways to better convey nutrition facts to hurried consumers, in particular by posting key information on the front of packages. Officials say such labeling will be voluntary, but the agency may set rules to prevent companies from highlighting the good things about their products, like a lack of trans fats, while ignoring the bad, like a surfeit of unhealthy saturated fats.

On today’s food packages, many of the serving sizes puzzle even the experts.

For ice cream, the serving size is half a cup. For packaged muffins, it is often half a muffin. For cookies it is generally one ounce, equal to two Double Stuf Oreos. For most children’s breakfast cereals, a serving is three-quarters of a cup.

It is difficult to say exactly how much people eat, said Lisa R. Young, an adjunct professor of nutrition at New York University, but she said that research showed that the portions Americans serve themselves had been growing in recent years.

When it comes to cereal, she said, many children probably eat two cups or more. Read More