portion vs. serving size

Portion vs. Serving Size: Understanding Difference is Key

Helping employees eat right plays a central role in a well-run workplace wellness program. And one lesson that is not always well-understood: Portion vs. serving size.

We recently cited guidance from UnitedHealthCare, which offers a useful rundown of healthy choices, many of which are easy to eat in the office — particularly if you plan ahead. One tip: “Trick Yourself into Smaller Portions: These clever portion tips may help you trim calories: Use smaller plates and bowls — and leave large serving dishes off the table.”

The American Heart Association notes: “Over the past few years portions have grown significantly in restaurants, as has the frequency of Americans eating out… Big portion sizes can mean you’re getting more food than your body can stomach to maintain a healthy weight.”

As portion sizes have increased, that has contributed to the increasing obesity rate in the U.S. And obesity drives up health costs. A Cornell University study published in Science News notes: “Obesity drives U.S. health care costs up by 29 percent, varies by state.”

However, understanding what drives healthy portions can be challenging. According to the AHA:

  • “Many of us don’t know what a healthy portion is.”
  • “Restaurants offer extras like breads, chips and other appetizers that add extra calories, sodium and fat but lack any nutritional benefit.”
  • “Some meals have portions that are enough for two or more people.”
  • “Many convenience foods and drinks are priced lower but packaged in larger sizes to sell more.”

Portion vs. Serving Size

To help clarify, the National Institutes of Health offers definitions, according to the AHA:

  • “Portion is how much food you choose to eat at one time, whether in a restaurant, from a package or in your own kitchen. A portion is 100 percent under our control. Many foods that come as a single portion actually contain multiple servings.”
  • “Serving Size is the amount of food listed on a product’s Nutrition Facts label. So all of the nutritional values you see on the label are for the serving size the manufacturer suggests on the package.
    Once we understand the difference, it’s easier to determine how much to serve and easier to teach kids the difference between the two. Learn some suggested servings from each food groups you and your kids can eat at mealtime or between meals.”

Helping employees understand the differences — and helping them better understand the connections between what we eat and obesity — can be an important part of a well-run workplace wellness program.