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Saturday, February 13, 2010

Do We Need to Adjust Serving Sizes?

An article from the New York Times, One Bowl = 2 Servings. FDA May Fix That.

This article talks a lot about serving sizes and how they're not always indicative of what people actually eat. There has been some talk of changing the requirements and making serving sizes more in line with what an "average person" (or, an average American) actually eats.

Good, in theory. But I have some issues.

First off, this is great for single-serving items where clearly the serving sizes are wrong. The serving size for a muffin should never be "half a muffin." No one eats only half a muffin, and that is horrifically confusing. A can of soup, usually consumed in one sitting, should be one serving (instead of 2 or 2.5 or whatever it is). Marie Callendar's Frozen Pot Pies are listed as two servings for one pie, and that should be one. If it is something that should and can be eaten in one sitting, it should be one serving, period.

However, there are other things that are not so clear. The article talks several times about cereal, and this is one that is always brought up. A serving of cereal is almost always 3/4 cup to one cup. Most people tend to eat 2 cups of cereal or more in a sitting. But, should they??? I don't think so. If we want to standardize, and say that a serving of cereal is one cup, and get rid of all of the 3/4 cup ones, that's fine. But, to bring the serving size up to two cups seems wrong to me. Same with potato chips. Usually, the serving size is one ounce. And, frankly, I think it should stay that way. The article says:
Munch half a bag of Tostitos while watching the Super Bowl and you could take in about half the 2,000 calories an average person needs in a day.
Well, don't munch on half a bag of Tostitos while you're watching the Super Bowl, then. I mean, really? Do we need to up the serving size to half a bag because that's what people eat? Or, should we instead keep the serving size what it is, and talk to people about controlling their portions?

We just eat too much. I would hate to see people starting to believe that the amount of chips, cereal, cookies, etc that they eat is reasonable, because it is not.

Another part of the article made the suggestion that we should put nutrition information on the front of the package. I really do not see the point in this at all. People do not care, people do not pay attention. Again, serving size will come into question. Let's just stop right there and spend some money on nutrition education - for children and for parents. How about that? Then, people will turn around the box and look at the Nutrition Information, as I have been doing for over 12 years.

One more place we can fix: confusing labels that involve preparation. If I buy cake mix, it lists the calories as both "as prepared" and "mix only." However, the rest of the nutrients are only listed as mix only, and I end up having to calculate. If I'm following the instructions exactly (for example, using a large egg and a 1/4 cup of oil as directed), then I shouldn't have to pick up a pencil and paper to calculate ANYTHING on the nutrition label. It should all just be there.

Also, let's do something about popcorn. Popcorn labels are really confusing. Take the example here. The nutrition information lists "As packaged." Ok, fine, but no one eats bagged popcorn as packaged. NO ONE. But, let's just say they do. The second column is "Per Cup Popped." This makes sense, but then it says the serving size is 3 Tbsp, or about 4 cups popped. Huh? So, what about the "per cup popped?" And, is the "as packaged" the 3 Tbsp? What about the 4 cups popped? What's the nutrition info on that? Why is this permitted to be so confusing?? I would prefer it say "one bag" or "half a bag" or something. Nothing ever makes sense when it comes to microwave popcorn.

And don't get me started on Movie Theatre Popcorn.

So, in essence, I think the FDA is in the right place with this discussion, but I don't think changing up every serving size for everything makes total sense. Let's just change the ones that really should be considered a single serving. Then, maybe just state "single serving" on the package or something.

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