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America’s Healthy
Cooking Teacher

Label.ology: Reading and Understanding Serving Sizes

How to Read a Label
Lesson One

At the top of the label you will see the serving size or the number of servings that the nutrition information is based on. This is one of the most important parts of the label because all the other information in the nutrition panel is based on the serving size, which is often unrealistic. When manufacturers have their nutritional information calculated, they often tweak the serving size to imply certain things about the product. It’s vitally important to pay attention to this piece of the label before going forward on anything else.

For instance, the all-natural brown rice cereal I eat at home contains 110 calories in a 1-cup serving. That’s pretty normal in terms of serving sizes for cereals, although in the real world, it’s not very big. Frosted Flakes offer a 3/4 –cup serving at 111 calories. Pour ¾-cup cereal in a bowl and look at it. If that’s what a person would realistically eat, then you’re all set. In most cases, we eat or drink much more than the serving size.

The same holds true with beverages. You buy a bottle of brewed tea, energy drink or sports water and chug the whole thing because who would, in reality, drink half the bottle? Who would think that bottle actually contained two servings? The bottles aren’t that big. Often, however, you have taken in double the calories because the serving size was tweaked to accommodate the image that the product “healthy.”

This could explain why many Americans eat and drink about 40% more calories than they think they do.

Check the serving sizes on each and every package. This way, you can measure and adjust your other calories for the day and ensure you’re not taking in more than you need which could result in weight gain that you don’t understand.

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