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Nutrition Tips: Serving Sizes


You’re at work.  It’s been a long morning, and you’re starting to get hungry.  You decide to pull out that bag of almonds from your desk drawer.  You dump a few on a napkin.  And you dump a few more.  You check the label - a serving is 2 Tbsp.  That looks about right, you decide.  You fold the bag back up and stash it away for another day. But here’s a question.  Why is a serving size of almonds 2 Tbsp?  Is that all you need of nuts for the day?  Is it a perfect portion for YOU?  

These “serving sizes” were actually determined back in the 1980’s - 1990’s after a group of researchers with the USDA surveyed Americans regarding how much they would eat of a certain food “per eating occasion.”  The average of the collected data became the serving size when nutrition labels became standardized in 1994.  So, basically, that ½ cup serving of Life cereal you had this morning was dictated by the rest of America.  Not science.  

Pretty interesting, huh?  I tell my patients to use the information on the label as a reference not a prescription.  For example, my 6’5” male athlete patient doesn’t need to stop at one serving of soup for lunch - he’s trying to get in a minimum of 3,000 calories every day as part of his training.  But, thanks to our label, we know that each serving provides him with 225 calories and we can build from there.  

One other thing to keep in mind - the food industry uses these labels for themselves, not for you.  These sizes give manufacturers a tool to inform us how much fat, calories, protein, etc. are in a given portion.  This does not mean anything in terms of meeting nutritional needs.  For example, a serving size of a bag of pretzels may be 10.  Don’t fool yourself into thinking that if you stick with 10, you’ve done something amazing for your body.  On the flip side, if you have an 8 oz. glass of orange juice in the morning, you haven’t met your quota for fruit for the day.  
 
When you’re struggling to find what servings YOU need, it’s best to work with a registered dietitian who can assess your needs based on certain criteria as well as working with your real life schedule.  By working together, you can best decide how many servings (or half servings) of any given food you need for YOUR optimal health and weight.  Guessing can lead to unintentional weight gain/loss, nutrient deficiencies, or unnecessarily avoiding certain foods.  

In Good Health,

Dawn



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