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Serving Size vs Portion Size

by Dr. Joey Shulman

In recent years, our nation has been suffering from “portion distortion syndrome”. In other words, due to the super-sizing of food items, we are eating more than ever before without even realizing it. Along with our expanding portion sizes, the waistline of the average North American has also increased drastically. In order to curb this trend of obesity, deciphering the difference between a portion size and a serving size is of the utmost importance.

The definition of portion size is dependant upon the amount of food you choose to eat. In other words, there is no standard portion size. For example, a toddler’s portion size will be much smaller than an adult’s portion size. Alternatively, a serving size is a standard amount used to “eye ball” or to give advice about the quantity of food eaten. According to Canada’s Food Guide to Healthy Eating, food is divided into four groups:

• Grain Products (5 to 12 servings per day)
• Vegetables and Fruit (5 to 10 servings per day)
• Milk Products (children 4 to 9 years: 2 to 3 servings, 10 to16 years: 3 to 4 servings, adults: 2 to 4 servings, breast-feeding or pregnant women: 3 to 4 servings)
• Meat and Alternatives (2 to 3 servings per day)

Average serving sizes include:

Grain = 1 serving
• ½ bagel
• 1 cup of rice
• 1 slice of bread

Fruits or vegetables
• 1 medium size vegetable or fruit of your choice
• ½ cup of fresh, frozen or canned vegetable or fruit juice
• 1 cup of salad
• ½ cup of juice

Dairy products
• 1 cup of milk
• 50 grams (1 ½  ounces) of cheese
• 2 slices of processed cheese
• ¾ cup of yogurt

Meats and alternatives
• 50 to 100 grams of poultry, meat or fish
• 125 to 250 ml beans
• 100 grams of tofu
• 2 tbsp of peanut butter

The serving size listed on a food label may not be the same as the serving sizes recommended by Health Canada. A serving size listed on a food label (see example below) provides information about nutritional content which is based on a very specific amount of food. Be sure to check the serving size from product to product and adjust the nutritional and calorie content for the amount you have eaten as products vary in serving sizes.
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