Portion sizes and serving suggestions are both useful strategies for moderating how much you eat. If you are limiting your calories, or you’re just focused on healthy eating behaviors in general, they are crucial tools. However, the difference between them can sometimes be confusing.

Nutrition Facts Labels

Portion sizes and serving suggestionsOne of your first lines of defense in making informed choices is the Nutrition Facts Label. This label shows the most important information about a food and is usually printed on the back or side of the product.

On the Nutrition Facts Label, you’ll find the ingredients used to make a certain food product. These ingredients are listed in order of abundance. The first ingredient listed is the ingredient that there is the most of. If sugar is listed as the first ingredient on the label for a breakfast bar, you can be certain the product has a lot of it.

The Nutrition Facts Label also shows you other key facts about a food product:

  • Calories
  • Sodium
  • Fats
  • Carbs
  • Added sugars
  • Vitamins
  • Protein
  • Fiber

The list goes on. But for the purposes of this post, we’re going to focus on another valuable piece of information: serving suggestions.

Serving Suggestions

A serving suggestion is the amount of food it is suggested you eat, according to the Nutrition Facts Label. Each food has its own suggested serving size ranging from 13 pretzels to 250 ml of milk or one ounce of cooked boneless, skinless chicken. Sometimes a serving is the entire container such as a yogurt cup or a canned drink. Sometimes there are many servings in a container like there is in a bag of chips or a jar of peanut butter.

Serving suggestions are based on a 2,000 calorie/day diet. If you have a goal to lose weight, you may want to consume less than the recommended serving size to create a calorie deficit. A dietitian can work with you to adjust your serving suggestions as needed.

Portion Sizes

While serving suggestions are how much food is recommended, portion sizes are how much you choose to eat. A smart strategy for being mindful of how much you eat is to compare your portion size to the serving suggestion.

For example, if the Nutrition Facts Label says the serving size is one cup, and you eat two cups, your portion size is double the serving suggestion. You are getting double the calories, fat, sugar and other ingredients/nutrients.

Moderation vs Restriction

It is always a good practice to read the Nutrition Facts Label and compare what is suggested vs what you are putting on your plate (or in your stomach). However, if your goal is to lose weight, be wary of getting so caught up in the numbers to the point that you avoid certain foods altogether. That’s why things like serving suggestions and portion sizes exist – to guide you in eating a certain food in a way that fits your plan. Moderation is more realistic and much more attainable than swearing off foods in favor of dieting.

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