Serving Size Me

In an effort to eat a healthier diet, lately I've been trying to pay more attention to the information crammed on the back of the food that I buy: the standardized "Nutrition Facts" labels that list calories, fat, carbs, etc. The thing that is really throwing me for a loop isn't the figures that are listed in most categories. Sure, a 20 oz bottle of Lemonade Gatorade contains 14 grams of carbohydrates—all from sugars, no less. My problem in nearly every case of every packaged food is simple: the serving size they list is not only unrealistic, it's misleading.

In the Gatorade example, the 14 g of carbohydrates account for only 5% of the recommended daily allowance of carbs (if you're on a 2,000 calorie diet). Unfortunately, in this 20 oz bottle of Gatorade, you've got 2.5 servings. That means if you drink the bottle in one sitting you're actually consuming 35 grams of carbs, or 12.5% of the recommended daily allowance of carbs.

I went to the movies last week (to see War of the Worlds) and while there, I opted for Reese's Pieces instead of my usual popcorn-no-butter. Of course the packages of candy at the movies are out of control and always have been. But my little 4 oz box of Reese's contained "about 3" 50-piece servings of the tasty treats. The serving size carries 7 grams of saturated fat, which is concerningly already marking 35% of my daily intake. If I eat the whole box (which is easy to do at the movies, right?), I'm taking in 105% of the saturated fat I should consume in a day. And of course, the saturated fat goal past isn't one we should be running toward anyway.

A 20 oz bottle of Diet Coke is also 2.5 servings. Does anyone drink 8 oz of Coke at one time? I mean, honestly. How often does this resealable bottle cap end up back on the bottle in the fridge? Not very often for me.

The other night, in the midst of a Reese's Pieces craving, I ran out to the Circle K, where the only package of Reese's I could find was a 7.4 oz bag. That's "about 5" servings to you and me. How many did it take me? Nearly three. My last serving wasn't a "full serving" by Reese's standards.

Almost nothing in America is sold in its serving size anymore. You can now buy very small cans of Coke at some stores, but the stock and selection is far limited in comparison to 12-packs and cases of 12 oz cans. Gatorade doesn't even come in a smaller size, and that product is marketed to "healthy people." Even "snack size" bags of chips are sold in "bulk"—multiple servings per bag—and a recent low-fat cookie commercial boasted "It's only 100 calories—and you can eat the whole bag!" We have been trained to eat everything on our plates, in our bags, and in our bottles without thinking about it. Because it's cost-effective.


  1. They created chip bags without closures because they realized that people will eat more chips if the bag is open.

    Generally, a person can be pretty healthy by avoiding any food invented in a board room.

    Good luck with your change!

  2. It used to be worse. No doubt that doesn't make you feel any better. And, of course, it doesn't change the thrust of your argument. You're still right. But the nutrition facts box is less misleading than it used to be. In 1990 the FDA & USDA revised the nutrition facts box so "serving sizes are now closer to the amount that people actually eat."