Things You Didn’t Know About… Portion Sizes
It’s no secret that Americans are getting fatter; according to the CDC, almost 35 percent of adults and 17 percent of children are obese. The problem is complex, combining socio-economics and large-scale food trends. However, consumer confusion about portion sizes certainly plays a significant role.
Portions are not the same as serving sizes.
When it comes to packaged food, a portion size can be many, many times larger than the recommended serving size. Even so-called “single-serve” packages of snacks may contain two to three actual servings, and restaurant portion sizes rarely stick to single serving guidelines. A 12-ounce soda is considered a single serving, but many consumers buy 20- or 24-ounce bottles instead… and drink them as a single serving. At most fast-food restaurants, a 12-ounce soda is a kids’ size: the smallest available size.
And even serving sizes have their problems as guidelines.
Reading the back of packages to see the recommended serving size is a good start, helping to keep consumers from mindlessly eating an entire bag of chips in one sitting. However, serving size information can sometimes be arbitrary and inconsistent. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) creates serving sizes by using the “reference amount customarily consumed” (RACC): that is, the amount that people usually eat. While the FDA is currently using decades-old data for its serving size guidelines, those guidelines are slowly being updated to reflect the amount that people actually eat. So while the current serving size for potato chips is one ounce (12-15 chips), once the RACC accounts for current eating habits, that number could potentially rise. Smart consumers will read the nutrition information whenever possible, but still understand the ramifications of eating a serving.
Serving sizes have changed over the years… and not for the better.
When Coca-Cola first gained popularity, it was sold in a six-ounce bottle; now, 24-ounce bottles are the most popular. Twenty years ago, the average bagel was three inches in diameter and contained 140 calories; today, a bagel is five to six inches in diameter and contains 250 calories. During that time frame, an order of french fries went from 2.4 ounces (210 calories) to a whopping 6.9 ounces (610 calories). If you have any of your grandparents’ old china, go and look at their dinner plates compared to dinner plates that were purchased more recently. Do you notice any difference? In the 1990s, the average size of a dinner plate jumped from 10 inches to 12 inches. The size of our plates influences the amount that we eat, even at home!