What should I know about nutrition labels and serving sizes?

When you look at the Nutrition Facts Panel on the side or back of packaged food, the Serving Size and Number of Servings per Container information is one of the most important things to read. This is not necessarily how much you should eat. Rather, it is a standardized serving as a reference, which allows you to compare crackers to crackers, for example. More importantly, it tells you the amount of food the rest of the nutrition information applies to.

This information can be confusing because sometimes the package is small and seems like one serving, but manufacturers label it as two servings. For example, if the servings per container are 2, and the calories are 250, when you eat the whole container, you have to double the calories and everything else on the label to get the accurate nutrition information for the amount you ate. The information about serving size and number can help you decide if a food is a heart-healthy choice.
Marilyn Ricci, M.S., R.D.
Nutrition & Dietetics
Be aware that the serving size that the nutrition information label is based on may not be a typical serving size. For example, a  label on a box of microwave popcorn may say that each bag has 3 servings, when in reality a lot of people will eat the whole bag themselves. Most cereal boxes describe a serving as 3/4 cup. Again most people put more than 3/4 cup of cereal in their bowl. Be prepared to do the math to figure out how many calories and other nutrients are in the serving size you eat.  
Every package offers this information. Regardless of how much food is in the bag or box, the nutritional information offers a serving size measurement and all the nutrition information pertaining to that serving size. New smaller bags may still hold more than one serving, so don’t assume that a smaller bag or box means that the whole package equals one serving size. Always read labels so that you are an informed consumer.

Another good health habit is to always look at the actual listed ingredients. Ingredients are listed by “prevalence or amount” meaning the first couple of ingredients are the more significant ingredients in the recipe. If you see sugar as one of the first listed ingredients, then you can assume the product is predominantly sugar.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.