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Feb 16, 2010 08:46 AM

"Serving size" shenanigans

I got into a discussion on an unrelated thread about serving sizes, and decided it deserved its own forum.

It's a pretty standard marketing trick to invent a "serving size" that's less - often far less - than the actual amount an average person would eat, in order to lower the sodium, calorie, and fat count "per serving."

I'm used to this from things like cans of soup (always listed as at least two servings per can), but I was looking at the nutrition label on a package of kielbasa the other day (don't ask me why) and was startled to realize they define one serving as 2 oz! Yeah maybe, if you're using kielbasa as a condiment!

What other egregious examples of minimizing serving size to make something look more healthful than it is have you seen?

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  1. You're not the only one questioning this... so is the FDA!

    2 Replies
    1. re: truman

      Interesting article. But it says that the "serving size" is determined by the FDA, not the food producers, and is based on consumer surveys done in the 1970s and '80s. That does not make sense to me - I was around in the '70s and '80s, and while people may not have "super-sized" things to quite the extent they do today, even back then no one considered 2 oz to be a standard serving of kielbasa.

      Plus, when I was looking at the package of kielbasa in the market, I also picked up another brand, which looked worse nutritionally until I realized their serving size was 3 oz, not 2! So much for producers getting their serving sizes from the FDA.

      1. re: truman

        Wait Wait, Don't Tell Me on NPR did a hilarious segment on this last weekend.

      2. Frozen pot pies--obviously a single serving, yet nutrition labels note that the pot pie has *2* servings!

        1. in order to standardize, they often list products with 1 oz servings, not to fool the consumer, to to make comparisons easier

          3 Replies
            1. re: thew

              But there is no such standardization! Look at the example I gave to start this - two brands of kielbasa, one says a serving is 2 oz, the other 3 oz. Besides, the issue is that they state this small quantity is the serving size when they know perfectly well it's not.

              Frankly, I'd be happy if everything showed the nutritional information per ounce - I have no trouble doing basic multiplication. As long as they don't also say that 1 oz is a standard serving when it's not.

              1. re: thew

                I know that Federal or State rules were put into place to standardize cost per oz (or whatever the food item is weighed in) in order to let consumer see which is the better buy across different sized packages of the same food. Maybe you are getting that twisted up with standard serving sizes?

              2. Dry cereal. Good Lord. I have never met someone for whom 1/2 cup of cereal constitutes a "bowl."

                The best I ever saw, though, were these giant dill pickles (several inches long), sold individually vac-packed in brine.
                The serving size, according to the package? "1/5 pickle."
                And one serving still accounted for something like 40% of the RDI for sodium.

                1 Reply
                1. re: Whats_For_Dinner

                  The exception, of course, being Grape-Nuts or a particularly dense and chewy granola.

                2. I think of the serving size as being based on the food pyramid, you know so much protein, carbs, fruits and veggies a day for a healthy diet (of course based on one western idea of what a healthy diet is). A fruit serving may be half a cup and you should have 3 or 4 a day. A protein serving may be 3 oz and you should have 2-3 a day. With the obesity problem in America (I am part of it), what we want to eat has to be brought into better balance with what we need to eat. I agree the serving sizes on packaging are useless.