Unfortunately, a lot of us grow up without learning how to read a nutrition label. Sometimes we get the hang of it by adult hood, but nutrition labels are still incredibly confusing and hard to understand, even for some of us here at the Healthy Bodies Project! However, if you’re not sure where to start, modeling healthy eating habits for your children is a great way to establish them early on. You can also have a conversation with your child to help them start to grasp the ins and outs of nutrition labels! Even basic information such as where the ingredients are listed, can be helpful to them in the long run. However, one of the most confusing parts of the label has to be serving size vs. portion size. Hopefully we can break this down for you.
Many people have trouble with differentiating between a portion size and a serving size.
A portion size is the amount of food that a person eats in one sitting. A serving size, on the other hand, is the amount generally served or recommended as per the nutrition label. For example, in terms of an ice cream pint, the serving size is only ½ of a cup. The portion size would be how much of the pint the person actually consumes at that time.
It is important to make this distinction because the amounts of calories, fat grams, cholesterol, sodium, and so on reported on the label are calculated based on one serving size, not the portion size that someone decides to eat. A very sneaky, yet crucial part of the nutrition label details the “Servings Per Container.” To explain this, let’s return to the pint of ice cream from before. There are four servings in the entire pint. So, if a person decides to eat the entire thing, they are actually eating four times the amounts of calories, fat grams, cholesterol, sodium, etc. that the nutrition label states.
Another poorly understood portion of the label is called the “% Daily Value.” These
percentages are calculated based on the average diet of 2,000 calories. Depending on a person’s BMI, gender, activity level, age, and general health, this number can deviate. This also means that % Daily Values can change depending on the person. In general, this number reflects the percent of a nutrient that you should strive to obtain each day. For example, if the ice cream pint label states Total Fat’s % Daily Value at 23%, this means one serving will provide 23% of the Total Fat you should eat in one day. Remember, if you were to eat the whole pint, it would give you 92% of the Total Fat you should consume per day (23% x 4 servings).
It is important to be aware of both serving sizes and servings per container when making food choices. This can help both you and your child portion control meals and snacks. Embedding healthy habits at a young age is a wonderful way to ensure it’ll become a routine later on.


This article was written by Healthy Bodies Project Lab Assistant Ellie Manca.

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