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Portion Control, Portion Distortion?

Updated: Jun 22



Tiny Serving Sizes: Accuracy or Marketing Tactic?


Often when we're trying to eat healthily, checking the serving sizes on food packaging can be shocking. The listed serving sizes frequently appear unrealistically small, leaving us wondering if anyone eats that little. Are these serving sizes accurate, or are they just a clever marketing tactic to make them seem healthier through lower calorie counts?


Understanding Serving Sizes

A serving size is a standardized amount of food to provide a consistent basis for nutritional information. These standards reflect typical consumption patterns and help us compare nutritional values across different products.


Why Do Serving Sizes Seem So Small?

1. Regulatory Standards: Some serving sizes are based on data about average consumption habits. However, these habits can be quite different from our actual eating habits, leading to serving sizes that seem really small versus what we typically eat.


2. Portion Distortion: Over the years, portion sizes have increased, both at home and in restaurants. This is known as portion distortion and means that what we consider a "normal" portion has grown, making standard serving sizes seem smaller in comparison.


3. Calorie Count Management: Often manufacturers set a smaller serving size. By breaking down the product into smaller serving sizes, they can list lower calories, fat, sugar, and other nutritional elements, creating an illusion of a healthier product. Inattentive shoppers will think they've made a healthier choice, even if they have multiple servings in one sitting.


4. Lack of balance on our plate: We can tend to fill our plates with larger portions of calorie-dense foods like meats and starches, while skimping on vegetables and other nutrient-rich foods. A properly balanced meal should include a variety of food groups in appropriate portions, with a significant portion dedicated to vegetables.



Implications for Portion Control

1. Read Food Labels Carefully: We need to check the serving size and the number of servings per package to see if they are realistic. Multiply the nutritional information by the number of servings we actually think you'd eat to get an accurate picture of the calorie load.


2. Be Mindful of Portions: Use measuring cups, spoons, and food scales to understand what a serving size looks like. This practice can help us become more aware of how much we're eating and reduce overeating.


3. Adjust Our Perception: Maybe we need to recalibrate our understanding of what constitutes a healthy portion. Let's familiarize ourselves with standard serving sizes and try to align our portions accordingly.


4. Balance your Plate: Load half your plate with non-starchy vegetables. Filling half our plate with vegetables can make standard serving sizes of other foods seem more satisfying. This approach also helps us get the nutrients we need from lots of vegetables while managing portion sizes of calorie-dense foods.


5. Consider Needs: Remember that serving sizes are guidelines, not strict rules. We should adjust our portions based on our needs, activity levels, and health goals.


By becoming more aware of serving sizes and their implications, we can make better-informed choices and manage our diet more effectively.


The seemingly small serving sizes on food products are a combination of regulatory standards and marketing strategies. While they aim to provide a consistent basis for nutritional information, they can sometimes mislead us about the actual caloric load.




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