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Unrealistic serving sizes

Unrealistic serving sizes

Do you know anyone who eats only ¾ cup cereal, ½ cup of ice cream, or 1 cup of soup at a sitting? Probably not. Even children eat more than that.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), a consumer advocacy group in Washington, is urging the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to revise its serving-size regulations as many people underestimate serving size.

Labels for canned soup, ice cream, coffee creamer and non-stick cooking sprays understate the calories and sodium consumers are likely to eat. Canned soup, in particular, presents a clear example of how unrealistic the stated serving sizes are. Labels for Campbell’s Chunky Classic Chicken Noodle soup, for example, indicate that a serving size is 1 cup — a little less than half a can with 790 milligrams of sodium. But in a telephone survey commissioned by CSPI, 64 percent of consumers surveyed said they would eat the whole can at one time and only 10 percent of consumers say they eat a 1-cup portion!  Chances are you are getting closer to 1500 mg sodium. Ice cream serving sizes are also unrealistic. The serving size is a half-cup of ice cream—a quarter of a pint.  However, many people eat closer to a whole cup. And some people probably eat an entire pint.

In my experience counseling overweight patients, and as I wrote in my book The Portion Teller Plan, so many people underestimate how many calories they consume, in part because people think that a serving is whatever amount they eat, and pay little attention to the amount of food listed on a package label. And since typical portions have grown in size, the amount of food you usually buy these days is much more than the amount listed on a package label. After all, I have never seen an ice cream shop sell ½ cup serving. (And if they did, consumers would probably complain!) Kiddie sizes usually contain at least 1 cup of ice cream.

Anahad O’Conner from The New York Times has an excellent summary.  The foods shown above, from the NYT article, are typically underestimated by many consumers.

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Where’s the salt?

Where’s the salt?

Last week, the government unveiled the 2010 issue of the Dietary Guidelines,  and watching our sodium content took center stage. So we know that we need to get rid of the salt shaker. Salt is composed of sodium and chloride, and 1 teaspoon of salt contains 2300 mg sodium. Sounds like a little or  lot!? Just one teaspoon of salt contains more sodium than half of us should eat for the entire day.

Under the new guidelines, nearly half of the US population should consume less than 1500 mg sodium. This includes adults 51 and over, children, African Americans, and those with hypertension, kidney disease and diabetes. The rest of us can have up to 2300 mg of sodium per day.

Clearly, we need to ditch f the salt shaker! But sodium is lurking in so many other commonly consumed foods. Here is the sodium content found in some  favorites foods:


A bagel with lox and cream cheese contains 1905 mg sodium. The bagel alone contains over 600 mg! Who would have thought?


A turkey sandwich on rye with mustard and mayo contains 1948 mg sodium


A pasta portion with tomato sauce contains 1260 mg sodium, and that is for the meatless version!!

That totals 5113 mg! Oy. And that is without snacks.

Here are some tips:

Get rid of the salt shaker.

Avoid processed foods.

Choose MORE fresh fruits and vegetables which are naturally very low in sodium.

Read food labels for the sodium content.

Cook at home more often and use oregano, black pepper, and other spices.

Let’s hope the food industry reduces the sodium in chips and other packaged foods. Some food companies have, indeed, made such promises. But remember, a reduced-sodium bag of chips is not health food and still contains sodium, and an apple (or another food not found in a package) would be a healthier choice.

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