FDA: Serving Sizes Are About to Get REAL!

FDA Serving Size Changes

Earlier this year, the FDA announced its plans to change the 20-year old nutrition facts panel that appears on food products. The change reflects changes in nutrition science and a better understanding of consumer behavior. We analyzed the announcement back then, but wanted to hone in on the issue of serving sizes today.

A cornerstone of any nutrition label is the serving size. All the nutrition numbers provided on the panel are based on the serving size. For any product, a serving of 2 ounces will obviously have different nutrition values compared to a 4-ounce serving.

The serving size is determined based on the standard portion size people are eating. How does the FDA know the portion sizes for cookies, ice cream, pasta, or bread? Nationwide Food Consumption Surveys conducted in the Seventies and Eighties provided reference values that have become the standard for the FDA, manufacturers, and the dietitian community. these values are called Reference Amounts Customarily Consumed (RACC).

The problem with the RACCs is that for many food categories the RACCs no longer represent the amount people actually consume.  As part of the nutrition label overhaul, the FDA is updating RACCs for 27 of 158 food categories.

For example, the serving size is no longer 1/2 a cup, rather 1 cup. This means that the number of calories per serving will now be twice as high for a serving! Obviously the ice cream manufacturers are upset, but you shouldn’t be, because if you are an average American, you will now have a more accurate count of the calories you actually consume.

Another area that the FDA is tackling is single serve food products that trick consumers by showing nutrition information for a single serving very well knowing the people eat the entire package of 2 or more servings in one sitting. Prominent examples include soups and soft drinks.

Going forward, all packages containing between 150% and 200% of the RACCs will no longer be labeled as more than one serving. A 15-ounce can of soup will no longer count as 2 servings.

If a larger product package can be consumed in either one sitting or in multiple sittings, it will require 2 columns of information: the first – per serving, and the second – per package. Dual column labeling will be required if a package contained at least 200% of the RACC and less than or equal to 400% of the RACC.

You can read more about the proposed change here.

These changes have not been implemented yet. The FDA is currently reviewing feedback from industry and the public. It may take up to 3 years for the new labels to appear on your local grocery shelf. In the meantime, if you are counting calories, make sure that the amount you are eating matches your expectations.

Do you look at the serving size when reading nutrition labels?

  • Thomas Lynch

    the devil is all in the details and implementation. Just like GMO labelling, i am sure the “industry” (a.k.a. the big company campaign contributors and former FDA members employers before they got this cake job) will say it will take YEARS to implement (if ever) ……… funny they can change barcodes and raise prices and wrappers in just the next print run?????? Let’s see a 90 day deadline. Or the FDA has it pulled from the shelves? GMO needs to be on the same enforment timetable……

    • H2O

      So True, you hit right on the nail..

  • Ashleigh

    I take an issue with this new policy. We could learn a lot from pervious generations on portion control. No one really needs to eat a whole cup of ice-cream or a whole can of soup… and honestly most dieters that are new to tracking calories will base how much they eat off a single serving size. We should be spending more money in teaching consumers to read labels instead of just changing them. People should learn how to decide on a portion that is right for them (I will usually eat a half serving of pistachios becsuse they are so high in calories, and it makes them last longer). It’s not that hard to do the math on some of this stuff. -And if consumers don’t take the time to learn the math, changing the labels won’t fix much.
    There’s also going to be the issue of using a tracking app after the change if we’re not careful to make sure what we track matches what we eat. For example: using the new serving size of ice-cream from the package of 1 cup, but tracking it as the old serving size on your app of 1/2 cup. The new policy may cause more confusion than it’s worth.
    With that said, it will be nice to see single serve packaging show the total calories… but I do hope they show a recommended ammount, so that there’s an indication you probably shouldn’t eat the whole thing in one sitting.

    • Tanna Dean

      I agree. Some will think the 1 cup (or pint!) ice cream serving is a normal or standard serving; on diabetic diet exchanges this would be 2 servings, but they’re thinking they only had 1. I do like the idea having both standard serving and container serving calorie counts.

  • Kat

    I agree with the changes at the very least for the single serve items. People new to healthier eating look for easy ways to make a difference in their food choices, looking for a daily treat that won’t tax their calories. They see that snack is 100 calories get excited only to find the “single serving” is double packaged. The purpose of the singles is to make a quick healthy option now it’s become count those almonds and don’t get tempted by those still in your purse. True consumers need to be educated on labels, contents, percentages and how to determine what class a food belongs in. I love hearing people say I ate some peanut butter and toast to get some protein this morning. Peanut butter is a fat not a protein. I applaud the FDAs attempt to standardize labels and sizes. Until people can get access to reliable sources to learn how to read the label they are going to rely on the regulator to help them out.

    • lauren

      Peanut butter has protein in it. Looks like you need to learn how to read the labels.

      • Jason

        Yes but the majority of calories from peanut butter come from fat and now protein. Sure its a good source of protein, and sure they are healthy fats. Nevertheless its a fatty food and should be consumed carefully. Each serving of two tablespoons has 16 grams of fat. Also its best served when there is less ingredients and no added sugar.

        • Kate

          Peanut butter has high fat because its rich in both omega 3s and omega 6s. The mono and poly fats you read on the label are good omega 3 fats that help burn omega 6 fat- sat and trans. With the added protein and iron, I make sure to eat at least one spoonful of natural peanut butter every day. Its good for you, you just can’t over do it

    • Stardust

      2 tbs of peanut butter is counted as a serving of protein.

    • Csillagfeny

      Make sure you get organic peanut butter without HFCS and GMOs!
      I like to use raw organic almond butter with coconut oil and avocado. :-)

      • Anthony

        Yes! Definitely get the organic peanut butter; it’s ingredients normally read “peanuts, sunflower oil, salt” while products such as Jiffy and Skippy have a ton more ingredients normally including (fully/partially hydrogenated oils), which i believe people should avoid. In fact, the FDA needs to make a move in banning all hydrogenatrd oils and excluding it from our foods. Truly, the less ingredients a product contains, the more natural and better it is for you.

  • Stardust

    This is so messed up because it’s basically teaching people that it’s ok to eat more of something that’s not so good for them. For someone who is counting calories and watching their portions, this change will just make them eat more than they really need. It’s not the servings that need to change, it’s the way people eat that needs to.

    • AdoptiveMum2Seven

      Exactly! If I can learn portion control, to measure out just one serving, anyone can!!!! It just takes a bit of *gasp* effort!!

  • H2O

    So now the calories will match the serving size, or what people are really eating, if calorie counting is your thing.. This could be a reason why it doesn’t work for some..

  • frustrating fractions

    I’m hoping they change packages that don’t have complete servings, the ones where a package contains approximately 5.6 servings or some other breakdown that isn’t a whole number. I am perfectly capable of dividing up a package depending on servings but its harder to measure without a scale when its partial servings.