Okay, I admit it, I’m that person in the grocery store picking up the packages and turning them over to check out the nutrition label…sometimes even two at a time to compare brands…total food nerd. But here’s the thing, you don’t have to be a food nerd be able to take some important information from the label to help you make an educated decision. And like any new habit, it’s best to start small, so let’s just take one item to talk about…serving size.
First thing to know about serving sizes is that there is no standard, so one brand may use ½ a cup for ice cream and another may say ¼ cup. The second thing to know is that the nutrition facts listed are only for that specific serving size, so it’s all about how they can make the nutrition label work for them. But we’re here to make it work for you. If you remember your elementary math, you just need to make a reasonable estimate on what you would actually eat and multiply (or better yet, actually measure what you are eating to test it out!). Using the ice cream example, most adults eat close to 2 cups, so if your ice cream says a 1/2 cup as the serving size, then you need to multiply all of the nutrition facts by 4 to come up with your personal nutrition serving. Instead of, for example, 110 calories and 14 g of sugar, you’ve gone up to 440 calories and 56g of sugar. There are many other examples of how serving sizes are not in sync with how the average American eats. Common culprits are soups, cookies and of course soda/sports drinks. One of those 20+oz drink bottles can equal 2-3 servings so that if you peruse the nutrition label quickly you’ll soon see that you, or maybe even your child, is downing a much larger amount of calories and sugar then you may have realized.
So my challenge to you is two-fold. First, check out your pantry and fridge for your commonly eaten items and look at the serving size. Does it sound like how much your or your family would eat? Do you eat ½ a can of soup? Or 2 cookies? Or ¾ cup of cereal? Pull out your measuring cups and spoons to help you visualize if necessary, and then start doing the math. Second, use this new insight to help inform your future food decisions. This may mean eating less of something, buying a favorite item in smaller individual serving containers, or choosing a healthier option at the store. To stay healthy you need to stay educated. Hope to see many new fellow food nerds at the supermarket soon!