The Problem With Serving Sizes
By ANAHAD O'CONNOR
For many people, the reality is that much of a pint can easily vanish in one sitting. A large package of Cool Ranch Doritos lists a single serving as one ounce, or roughly 12 chips, but it’s hard to imagine keeping count of every last chip as you dig into a bag. And while 160 calories and two grams of saturated fat may sound like a small price to pay for a serving of Oreo cookies, keep in mind that technically speaking, a serving is a paltry three cookies.
In the face of mounting criticism, the Food and Drug Administration has been under pressure for years to force food makers to include more realistic serving-size information on their labels. The agency regulates the serving sizes that can be listed on packages by providing food makers with detailed guidelines to follow, which list the amounts of a specific food that a person would “customarily consume” in a typical sitting. But critics say these so-called reference amounts are often laughably small because they’re based in part on surveys of eating behavior that were carried out in the 1970s, when Americans ate less food and portions had not been supersized.
Now, in an effort to highlight the problems with some labels, the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a consumer advocacy group, has singled out what it says are some of the worst offenders.
At the top of its list are labels for canned soups, ice cream, coffee creamers and nonstick cooking sprays — all of which grossly understate the calories, sodium and saturated fat the average person typically consumes when eating these foods.
Canned soup may be one of the more stark examples. According to its label, a single serving of Campbell’s Chunky Classic Chicken Noodle soup is one cup — just under half a can — and contains about 790 milligrams of sodium. But in a national survey of 1,000 consumers, only 10 percent of people said they would eat a one-cup portion. Most, about 64 percent, said they would eat an entire can at one time, taking in 1,840 milligrams of sodium in a sitting. That is roughly 80 percent of the 2,300 milligrams recommended as the upper limit for daily salt intake under the 2005 Dietary Guidelines, and well above the 1,500 milligrams that health officials have said about half the population should adhere to (those with hypertension, African-Americans and people over 50).
A similar number of the people asked, 61 percent, said they would also eat the entire can of a condensed soup, like Campbell’s Chicken Noodle, which lists 2.5 servings per can. A single serving contains 890 milligrams of sodium, and the full can has 2,390 milligrams. About 27 percent of respondents said they would eat just half a can in one sitting.
The group also took issue with the “Healthy Request” labels, which are for soups that fall below 480 milligrams of sodium per serving.