What a Serving Size Really Looks Like


By: , – Betsy Emmert, SparkPeople Marketing Intern
  :  102 comments   :  147,536 Views

Ever gulp down a container of juice, only to find out there were actually 2 1/2 servings in that 20-ounce bottle? Gobbled up a "personal" size bag of chips? What about that pint of ice cream in the freezer? That surely is one serving. Right?
If you answered yes to any of those questions, you're not alone. Food companies and restaurants often try to trick us by making it really difficult to determine how many portions are in a package.

Most of us have experienced portion distortion, especially as we start our healthy living journey.  Portion distortion is widespread, but thankfully it's something that's easy to overcome!

Today we're sharing an eye-opening graphic that will show you how much many of us are really eating--and how much we should be eating! We put our marketing intern, Betsy Emmert, on the case!

Which of the serving sizes above was the most surprising to you? What food is hardest for you to properly portion?

Be sure to spread the word about portion distortion! Click the photo above to download and print it--and if you're on Pinterest, this is a must-pin!

Graphic by Stepfanie Romine
Photos by Elliott Giles
Research by Betsy Emmert

About the author: Betsy Emmert is from Cincinnati, Ohio and is a second-year student studying marketing at the University of Cincinnati. Betsy attended Saint Ursula Academy and is actively involved on UC’s campus, serving as a campus tour guide and communications director of her sorority. Betsy held a summer internship with SparkPeople, Inc., during the summer of 2012 and loved being a part of the SparkPeople Team! She hopes to continue spreading the spark every day and inspiring people to reach their goals!

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    Good to know! - 4/18/2017   7:28:42 AM
  • 101
    Thanks! It is awfully difficult to determine sizes when looking at a helping. - 11/13/2016   10:57:34 PM
  • 100
    My twizler package says 4 pieces for 150 calories, blue diamond almonds are just a little off 170 not 164, so this article is wrong, wonder how many others are also wrong. - 11/13/2016   11:44:31 AM
  • 99
    When I was first learning to look at the package for a serving size I was SHOCKED !! I was one of the ones who drank a 20 oz soda (pepsi) and thought that WAS a Serving size. I was SHOCKED so much I at once starting reading ALL labels. - 11/13/2016   1:36:27 AM
  • 98
    Great reminder to always, always, always check serving size AND number of servings per package! - 6/15/2016   7:36:20 AM
    Twizzlers one. Just 3 pieces are a 120 calories? The rest was what I kinda already knew. Still, even knowing the popcorn one it was a little jarring to actually see how little added up to 170. (I already knew the bag was about 400 calories). - 6/14/2016   12:11:49 PM
  • 96
    People can read the nutrition labels but for some people, a visual presentation of the info is more helpful. People should eat healthy but making a life change doesn't happen overnight. Some of you in the comments need to remember that stuff before you roll your eyes and start criticizing the article and people. - 6/9/2016   5:42:12 PM
  • 95
    We can read this info a thousand times, but it isn't realistic. Knowledge never has made it happen, it's interesting for beginners though. No expert ever tells the truth, healthy food is just not that tasty!! If it was, no one would bother eating unhealthy stuff. Decades of nagging hasn't changed that fact!!! - 6/6/2016   11:17:54 AM
    On this list, the hardest thing for me would be nuts. So hard to remember that a one oz. serving is really not that much...nuts are so calorie-dense! This is why, even though I've been doing this for awhile, I still keep my scale handy! "Eyeballing" things can't always be trusted... - 6/5/2016   11:06:04 PM
  • 93
    By the way... be very very very leery of Gatorade and Powerade. They were my "go to" drink when one more glass of water was unappealing. Then I read the label!!!! 34 g of carbs and ALLL sugars!!!! No more.... - 6/5/2016   4:25:39 PM
    Great visual to reinforcement of what adds to our unwanted or needed calories. Thanks. Multnomah - 6/5/2016   4:02:10 PM
  • 91
    I suppose this is to show how people "innocently" fall into the trap, even though they are not eating real food. That said, it sounds like a crutch. Every label clearly states how many "servings per container". For me, this article is just an excuse some people use. But then, I worked with 2 people that lost over 100 lbs after gastric bypass then wondered why they gained weight back while eating a whole family size serving bag of M&Ms in one siting. - 6/5/2016   4:00:26 PM
  • 90
    The examples are also common trigger foods for people that are sweet and/or salty and will easily increase the appetite for more. It is very difficult to eat just a small amount of these items that food manufacturers engineering for maximum pleasure and taste. - 6/5/2016   10:43:02 AM
  • 89
    This was interesting, but I felt that the portion sizes should be showing healthy things that we should be seeking out and eating. The only winners I saw was the almonds and the dried apricots. Well, chocolate can be fun too and has health benefits, but it gives me acne, so I usually avoid it. This article is good for beginners. We all have to start somewhere! Myself, the hardest thing for me to give up was the popcorn. Yeah, you are not supposed to eat the whole bag, but it gets stale if it's just sitting in your cupboard. So I just don't have it anymore. One of these days, I'm going to dust off the popcorn popper machine that we have and air pop some, without any thing added to it, except a little olive oil. - 6/5/2016   6:11:50 AM
  • 88
    1 Portion is not necessarily 1 Serving!
    From grains, 6-8 servings per day are recommended, and if one eats 3 meals a day, that means 2 servings or even 3 at one meal.
    Not making this clear makes dieters desperate: who can be satisfied with just one serving? straight way to give up and quit.

    On the other hand, for junk food however small the serving size is, it is better to eat zero servings per day.
    - 6/5/2016   5:53:18 AM
  • 87
    Who eats 1/2 cup of ice cream?... - 6/5/2016   5:06:54 AM
  • 86
    I had no idea Twizzlers were so high in calories. Wow I think I will stick with gummi bears or Jelly Belly's when my sweet tooth kicks in. The average gummi is 9-12 calories each and a single jelly belly is 4 calories each. Both albanese and jelly belly are local brands for me too so can tell myself I'm helping the local economy ha! - 6/5/2016   12:52:08 AM
  • HILLSLUG98239
    So many of these articles with advice on nutrition can be summed up with "read the nutrition facts label." - 1/27/2016   2:47:57 PM
  • 84
    Good to know - 1/27/2016   11:58:12 AM
  • SHAHAI16
    I wasn't really surprised by most of these cause I actually read labels...What is considered a "personal size" bag of chips? I don't eat chips often, but I get the ones that are a single serving, approx 120 cal. My one vice is pop, I know it's terrible. I did switch to Soda Stream years ago but occasionally have coke or mt. dew out at a restaurant. If I want ice cream, I scoop it into a small teacup so I feel like I'm getting more. - 1/27/2016   11:49:45 AM
    Love the article. I think I suffer from portion distortion. - 1/27/2016   11:17:19 AM
  • 81
    OMG! The reality of the portion sizes is depressing, but very much needed. Thank you for the wakeup call!! - 8/17/2015   8:29:50 AM
  • 80
    I feel like I've gotten to be really good with right-size portions: an ounce of nuts, cheese, or chocolate; 8 oz or less of caloried beverages; pre-determined quantities of candy, chips, crackers, etc; I even measure my ice cream! However, I don't eat dried fruit much if ever, so I was shocked that there are 75 calories in 5 little pieces!! I sometimes get banana chips from the grocery, and there is no calories info because they are made in-store. I bet it's comparable, though. Bleh. - 5/19/2015   12:24:25 PM
  • 79
    Too bad that 20 potato chips are hardly ever satisfying :(
    Why would anyone with ambitions to loose weight drink sugary drinks when zero kcal alternatives are available? - 5/19/2015   3:34:24 AM
    Shocking the Twizzlers. I do not think they are so great in the first place (I am a hopeless chocoholic), but I did think their benefit was fat free, low sugar, low calorie gel-like substance--compared to most high-fat high sugar candies. What I do now, is if I lose control over an item it does not even make it back into my house (right now). I have it out and I buy it only in a quantity I cannot abuse, and/or I get someone lined up to share before I even purchase it. Most packaged items, even cans, say of peaches, really are 2+ portions (with the exception of some small-Pak candies., such as candy bars, etc.). I am a strong believer in baggies. - 5/11/2015   12:11:38 PM
  • 77
    I'm not surprised because I read the packaging but I will be sharing with my co-workers that "can't understand why they aren't losing weight". They snack on "healthy snacks" like peanut butter, dark chocolate, popcorn, nuts and granola all day long without paying attention to the serving size they are actually eating throughout the day. Thanks, everyone one loves visuals. - 3/29/2015   9:05:13 AM
  • 76
    I DO watch my serving sizes. Yes, I DO eat just a scoop of ice cream. I can not and will not give up the things I love. I believe in moderation and that has worked for me. It's all about self control. - 3/27/2015   10:46:06 AM
  • 75
    we know all this - what i don't understand is why we are continually sucked into this stuff. NO ONE eats only half cup ice cream or 1 oz of choc. it is best to leave all that stuff alone.
    as far as the packagers - they should be held to the standard that ONE SERVING per container only is allowed -- but still - people would just open up two or three . whatever - 3/26/2015   4:09:41 PM
  • 74
    I wasn't really surprised but only because I've been on SP for so long. The apricots and almonds are hard for me because their portion sizes seem SO much smaller than a normal serving, but that's why I count/measure/weigh just about EVERYTHING these days. - 11/2/2014   1:41:17 PM
  • 73
    That popcorn was probably movie theater butter popcorn, you can get really tasty 100 calorie popcorn bags where you can eat the whole bag, they are smaller but still enough to be a filling snack. - 2/28/2014   12:48:41 AM
    I've started to count my chips, pretzels, cheese servings, and such. Bags often say something like 24 pretzels = 120 calories or 1 oz of cheese I just pop on the digital scale. (I don't trust a spring scale anymore). Whats more I'll count an entire bag into snack size plastic baggies, then put them back into a larger bag or even the big bag it came in. - 1/6/2014   12:39:58 PM
  • 71
    I don't think the popcorn is accurate. There are two sets of nutrition facts on the box, and one says "as packaged." Who would eat popcorn as packaged, without popping it?! You have to look at the nutrition facts for the popped popcorn, which I don't think this author did. - 1/1/2014   4:44:27 PM
  • 70
    There goes the Twizzlers! I could never just eat 3 so I have to make the decision to not have them at all because the calories in 3 just isn't worth it. - 10/23/2013   12:30:55 PM
    I don't actually have many chips but the personal bag SEEMS like a serving. I hope I would turn it over and check the number of servings. In fact, I was at a deli last weekend and pickup up a bag. I don't think I looked at it. Luckily, I shared with my daughter anyway. - 10/23/2013   9:21:01 AM
  • 68
    WOW... - 8/29/2013   1:03:12 PM
  • 67
    I knew about the nuts, but the apricots surprised me. Gives ya something to think about when it comes to "mindless eating!" - 8/24/2013   8:12:37 AM
    great visuals! - 8/22/2013   10:46:21 PM
  • 65
    The only surpise was that the popcorn had 12g fat in a single (4-cup size not a surprise) serving. Then I realized that corn probably wasn't air-popped....or maybe it had a little butter.... - 8/22/2013   6:58:43 PM
  • JULIE700
    I love the visuals. I have a really hard time having just one portion of ice cream. Even though I know that a portion is 1/2 cup I always dish out more. - 8/22/2013   3:37:14 PM
    Ice cream is my downfall. Back in the "olden" days, we would use a cereal bowl for a serving. Since I have no intention of giving up ice cream, I had to compromise - now I use the small 6-ounce glass serving dishes. There's room for my 1/2 cup of ice cream, and seeing the dish almost full is much more satisfying than seeing a little 1/2 cup serving in a larger bowl. - 8/22/2013   12:30:44 PM
    Not that surprising to me... now. I weigh (especially nuts and chips) and measure everything. I always look at labels and serving sizes. This is something Sp has taught me, ty. - 8/21/2013   11:17:46 PM
  • 61
    I was surprised with the chocolate bar and the popcorn.I guess I've been calculating the whole bag of popcorn's nutritional info incorrectly this whole time! - 8/21/2013   11:10:32 PM
  • 60
    I was most surprised by the twizzlers. Haven't eaten them in a long time, but there was a time years ago when I'd down a whole bag at the movies, thinking I was doing well eating that "no fat" treat - 8/21/2013   6:59:38 PM
  • 59
    Wow! What an eye opener! I love twizzlers and chips I never can stop eating them until they are all gone. Will have to do some reading of the serving info on the back of packages from now on. Maybe stay away from my trigger foods for awhile if not forever. - 8/21/2013   6:58:00 PM
    Twizzlers are 40 calories each??? I knew about the other foods but that one surprised me - 8/21/2013   4:17:52 PM
  • 57
    I think the dried fruit and the nuts are the most surprising - it's a great reminder that even "healthy" options can pack a lot of calories and that even just a few bites can add up (and a few more bites can add up even more)! - 8/21/2013   1:40:55 PM
  • 56
    This is a great reminder to ALWAYS READ LABELS. Also, I always assume that the manufacturer is trying to trick us into thinking that there are less calories. (LOL! It's true!!!) - 8/21/2013   1:23:30 PM
  • 55
    Oh Twizzlers, my one true candy love. Why are you so horrible for my waistline? - 8/21/2013   1:22:30 PM
  • 54
    The chips are totally not worth it! And the correct ice cream portion looks very small as well. Good thing I rarely buy them both! - 8/21/2013   12:57:28 PM
  • 53
    I am a person that does best to just not have any of those foods in my house. I will measure out the right portion size, BUT, I will eat the portion and keep measuring out until they are gone. So for me measuring is not a problem, stopping before it is empty is. Thank you for the great reminder on portion size. - 8/21/2013   12:56:48 PM

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