What Is the Difference between Food Portions and Serving Sizes?

by | Sep 21, 2011 | Health Habits, Nutrition Support, Uncategorized

What Is the Difference between Food Portions and Serving Sizes?

There’s so much confusion out there as to food portions and serving sizes that I thought it best to write a few articles on the subject.

Food portions refer to the quantity of food you choose to eat at one time.

Food portions could refer to a snack, a full meal or anything else. It’s the quantity you are comfortable with and confident you can eat. If you are at a party then food portions refers to the quantity of food that your host choose to serve you with or if you are at a restaurant than food portions would be the quantity of food the restaurant serves for that particular item on the menu.

Unlike food portions, serving size is the quantity of food that constitutes ‘one unit’ of that food.

For example, serving size as mentioned on a box of cookies might be 2 cookies. Serving size for a popular brand of cola might be 125ml and so on. Again, although serving sizes differ from food to food or food package to food package, unlike food portions, each serving size is a precise quantity of food.

Basically, food portions refer to an approximate quantity of food that is spooned in your plate whereas a serving size is a very precise or measured quantity of food.

Furthermore, ‘a serving’ is also linked to precise nutritional information. So if you observe a food package label, it usually states the serving size and the quantum of calories, vitamins, proteins, minerals, salt, fats, etc. that is in the food that measures one serving.

Let me give you a concrete example of how food portions and serving sizes are interlinked.

If you look at the label on a box of Macaroni and cheese, the label presents nutritional information for a single serving which it states is equal to one cup. Furthermore, the label presents you the nutrition as a percentage of the total nutrition you are supposed to receive in a day (as per USDA advice). Now, if you consume the entire small box of Macaroni and cheese (most people do), then for you, food portions of Macaroni and cheese is that entire box. However, the entire box was actually two cups i.e. two servings. So whatever nutritional facts are mentioned, they need to be multiplied by two (because you eat two servings) or you need to see if the label mentions the number of servings per container.

USDA also advises us as to the food portions of each food group (dairy, proteins, vegetables, fruits and grains) that we are supposed to consume daily.

For example, the USDA advises that we should consume about two cups of milk per day (16 oz). Most people either consume no milk or drink several glasses or an entire carton of milk. You need to figure out how much milk or grain or vegetable etc. you consume and then compare it with the recommended daily food portions.