The Difference Between 'Portion Size' and 'Serving Size' (And Why It Matters) | Food and Health

The Difference Between 'Portion Size' and 'Serving Size' (And Why It Matters) | Food and Health
The Difference Between 'Portion Size' and 'Serving Size' (And Why It Matters) 

What Is the Distinction Between 'Portion Size' and 'Serving Size'? (And Why It Matters)

Have you ever enjoyed a sleeve of Oreos when someone decides to chime in with the fact that, really, a serving size is only three cookies?  We hear about "serving size," "portion" and often "portion control" all the time, but what do they really mean?  Is there a meaningful difference, or do they all end up making you feel weird about how many cookies you just ate?

If you are confused, you are not alone.  A new consumer survey* from the International Food Information Council (IFIC) reports that nearly half (48%) of participants correctly defined "serving size", with the same percentage defining "serving size as portion size".  connects incorrectly."  Here's the difference between serving and portion sizes and what it means for your health goals.

Serving Size: What's on the Label

Serving size is the standardized amount of food you see at the top of the Nutrition Facts label.  A package of food can (and often is) contain multiple servings, and a single serving size isn't meant to tell you how much you should eat in one sitting.  In fact, the FDA explicitly states that "by law, serving sizes should generally be based on the amount of food consumed, not how much they should be consuming."

In 2016, the FDA made changes to several Nutrition Facts labels so that when people look at calories and nutrients on labels, serving sizes more closely match what they consume.  For example, the serving size for ice cream was long listed as half a cup, but is now more realistic, two-thirds of a cup.  But does that mean that's how much you should "eat" two-thirds of a cup of ice cream?  not enough.

Portion Size: How Much You Actually Eat?

A portion size is simply how much food you eat in one sitting.  How much you eat depends on personal preference and dietary needs—not what the label says to eat.

There are a few reasons you may want to understand your portion sizes, including meeting your nutritional needs, avoiding food waste, and feeling comfortably satiated while eating.

Portion Size and Serving Size: Why it matters?

The IFIC survey found that although serving sizes are not designed to suggest how much to eat, many consumers still use them for that purpose.  Similarly, Dr. Ali Webster states in Healthline that "many people seem to have internalized that information as a recommendation for how much to eat when it is not necessary."

It's true that understanding serving sizes helps you understand food labels so you can get a more accurate understanding of the nutritional makeup of your food, depending on how many servings you eat.  However, your portions may be much larger or smaller than the serving size for a variety of reasons.

Here's one way the difference between serving size and portion size can come into play: A serving size of grapefruit is half a cup (about 16 grapes).  If you take about two handfuls, however, your portion size could be a full cup—two servings.  Knowing your individual portion sizes will be essential for counting calories, tracking macros, or reporting to your doctor how much fruit you typically get in your diet.


While the serving size of something will be the same for everyone looking at the Nutrition Facts label, the portion size depends on your body and your needs.  Use serving size to understand nutritional facts about a food.  Again, your portion size should be determined by individual factors such as hunger cues and health goals.  In short: serving sizes are mass produced;  Portion sizes are individual.

Note: The survey uses data from interviews of 1,000 adults aged 18 years and older, which was conducted in November 2021 and published in January 2022.

READ MORE: Omega-3 fatty acids: Advantages, Foods contain Omega-3 fatty acids to help your heart and brain health

Source: Meredith Dietz, Lifehacker, Direct News 99