Serving size. Portion size. What’s the difference? With these terms being thrown around all the time, it can get confusing. You may often see them being used interchangeably. However, they are two different things.
A serving size is what you’ll find on a nutrition facts label. It’s the amount recommended by the manufacturer. The nutrient breakdown that you see on the nutrition facts label is the breakdown for that specific serving size. A portion size is how much an individual chooses to eat, and it can be larger or smaller than a serving.
Take a look at this nutrition label. If you look under Nutrition Facts you will see that one serving is 1 cup, and in that 1 cup serving there are 120 calories, 5 grams of fat, 11 grams of carbohydrate, and 9 grams of protein. If you are feeling a little extra hungry in the morning, maybe you want a larger bowl of cereal. The serving size of 1 cup will stay the same, but you have total control over your portion size. Say your bowl of cereal is 2 cups. The serving size is still 1 cup, but your portion is 2 cups. Since your portion is double the serving size, the nutrients will also be doubled. Your portion of cereal will have 240 calories, 10 grams of fat, 22 grams of carbohydrate, and 18 grams of protein.
Another phrase you may hear thrown around is portion control. As I mentioned before, we are in control of our portion sizes. When we’re watching a movie at night with a bag of chips next to us, it’s easy to mindlessly eat way more than we should – or when we are out at a restaurant and we are served a plate of pasta twice the size of our head. This is where portion control becomes a very useful tool.
While we should always allow ourselves to eat as much food as our bodies are telling us they need, we should also be mindful of how much we are eating. Here are some visual representations of portion sizes to help you out.
Now these size comparisons are not strict guidelines that you have to follow. These are simply tools to help you be mindful of what you are eating. The most important thing to remember is to give your body what it needs to feel and perform the best it can. If you are consistently eating that bowl of pasta that is twice the size of your head, you may not be feeling and performing the best you could be. We need a proper balance of all of the food groups. Try eating the recommended portion size and then take a small break. Ask yourself if you are still hungry or if that portion was enough. If you are still hungry, by all means, eat more! Eat until you are satisfied and no longer hungry, not until you’re stuffed.
If you want tips or more information on this topic, check out https://www.choosemyplate.gov/ or sign up to talk one-on-one with the Smart Eats staff. If you would like to contact us email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.