.

  • Written by Emma Beckett, Lecturer (Food Science and Human Nutrition), School of Environmental and Life Sciences, University of Newcastle
Standard serving sizes are anything but standard. Shutterstock

The Australian Guide to Healthy Eating sets out how much we should eat from each of the food groups. If we eat the recommended number of “standard serves” from each food group for our age and sex, it puts us in a good position to have a healthy, balanced diet.

But what is a standard serve? And does it match what’s on our food labels?

Standard serves

Despite the name, standard serves are not very standard, even in the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating. Serves can be described by energy (kilojoules or kJ for short) contained in a serve, units of food such as “one medium apple”, or “one slice of bread”, by weight, or by volumes like a cup.


Read more: Food as medicine: why do we need to eat so many vegetables and what does a serve actually look like?


A “serve” is also different between each of the food groups and even within the food groups.

One serve of grains is about 500kJ. That’s one English muffin but only half a bread roll. Or it could be half a cup of porridge, one-quarter of a cup of muesli, or three-quarters of a cup of wheat cereal flakes.

One serve of dairy is 500-600kJ, which could be one cup of milk, but is only three-quarters of a cup of yoghurt, or a half cup of ricotta cheese. Hard cheeses are defined by slices, with two slices to a serve, assuming each slice is about 20g.

Australia’s Guide to Healthy Eating outlines the number of serves we need each day to stay healthy. eatforhealth.gov.au

Serves on food labels

Nearly all packaged foods in Australia have nutrition information panels. These include information meant to help us make better food choices.

The exact information depends on the food. But they have to at least include how much energy (kJ), protein, fat (total and saturated), carbohydrates (total and sugars) and salt (sodium) is in the product. These contents are always listed twice, per 100g (100mL for liquids) and per serving.

The manufacturer sets the food label’s serving size. Andrey_Popov/Shutterstock

But the serving on the label has nothing to do with the standard serves in the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating. The serving size on the label is not a recommendation on how much you should eat – it is decided by the manufacturer. It’s based on how much they expect a person to typically eat, or the unit size the product is eaten in.

This could be very different to a standard serve. For example, the labelled serving size on a chocolate bar might be “one bar” – 53g of chocolate containing 1,020kJ. But the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating says a serve is half a small bar (25g) or about 600kJ, and it’s recommended we limit discretionary food (junk food) to one serve per day.

Comparing serving sizes between brand and package sizes

In Australia, there are no rules about how these serving sizes are set. A serving might not be the same in similar products, or in different brands of the same product.

This can make products hard to compare. The serving size of a soy sauce in one brand, for example, could be one-tenth of a soy sauce made by another company.


Read more: Fat free and 100% natural: seven food labelling tricks exposed


To add to the confusion, a serving also doesn’t necessarily reflect portion size: how much a person consumes in a meal or sitting.

A 250g packet of microwave white rice, for example, might be labelled as having two 125g servings. This is because the manufacturer expects it to serve two people. But one of those labelled servings is almost two standard serves of grains.

To make it even more confusing, in the same brand of rice, a 450g family pack could be labelled as having four serves, with each serve 112g. That’s 10% smaller than the serving size in the smaller packet. But it assumes a family of four could split the pack between them in a meal. So, in this package, one labelled serving size would be the equivalent of about 1.7 standard serves of grains.

How serves on labels impact our food choices

Even though labelled serving sizes are not related to standard serves or the recommended amounts that should be eaten, research shows consumers often interpret the labelled servings as being recommendations for portion size or for following dietary guidelines.

Studies show the listed serving size impacts how much people choose to eat. Larger serving sizes on labels can make it appear that a large serve is recommended, leading to people eating or serving themselves more. This has been shown with several foods, including cookies, cereal, lasagne and cheese crackers.

A larger serving size on the lasagne label might mean you’re likely to eat more of it. Stockcreations/shutterstock

But for some foods, like lollies, larger serving sizes can make them look less healthy, leading to reduced consumption or smaller portion sizes. This is likely because the large number of kilojoules stands out in the per serving data.

So what should you do?

Because serving sizes can vary by product and manufacturer, it’s easiest to use the per 100g or 100mL information, instead of the per serve information when comparing products. But think about the actual weight or volume you will consumer when you consider how it fits your daily intakes.

The recommended diet for the average adult is based on eating 8,700kJ of energy per day. To get this much energy from a balanced diet, that’s 50g protein, 70g fat and 310g carbohydrates. We also want to aim for 24g or less of saturated fats, and 30g or more of fibre.

But needs will differ by life stage, activity level, sex, your current weight and your weight goals. There are online calculators to estimate your requirements.

Memorising serving sizes and guidelines can be hard. To make it easy, you can print a copy of the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating food groups and serving sizes to keep where you can see them when preparing food.


Read more: Health Check: how to work out how much food you should eat


Emma Beckett receives funding from the National Health and Medical Research Council and the AMP Foundation. She has consulted for Kelloggs Australia. She is a member of the Nutrition Society of Australia, the Australian Institute of Food Science and Technology and the Early and Mid Career Researcher Forum Executive.

Tamara Bucher has received research funding from government and non-government organisations and industry. Funding sources include the Swiss National Science Foundation, the Swiss Foundation for Nutrition Research, the European Commission, the Swiss Academy of Humanities and Social Sciences, the Walter Hochstrasser Stiftung, Nestlé S.A., SafeFood UK, Goodman Fielder and Rijk Zwaan Australia. She is a member of the Nutrition Society of Australia and the International Society for Behavioural Nutrition and Physical Activity.

Authors: Emma Beckett, Lecturer (Food Science and Human Nutrition), School of Environmental and Life Sciences, University of Newcastle

Read more http://theconversation.com/no-serving-sizes-on-food-labels-dont-tell-us-how-much-we-should-eat-123755

Is your horse normal? Now there’s an app for that

Vet: are you happy? Horse: neigh. evilgurl/Flickr, CC BY-NC-SASince ancient times, horse behaviour, and the bond between horses and humans, has been a source of intrigue and fascination. The horse-l...

Paul McGreevy, Professor of Animal Behaviour and Animal Welfare Science, University of Sydney - avatar Paul McGreevy, Professor of Animal Behaviour and Animal Welfare Science, University of Sydney

Small histories: a road trip reveals local museums stuck in a rut

Berry, and other tourist towns, are out of step with modern museum curation which is trying to include Aboriginal communities and their stories. ShutterstockAboriginal and Torres Strait Islander read...

Jen Saunders, Phd candidate, University of Wollongong - avatar Jen Saunders, Phd candidate, University of Wollongong

Curious Kids: how are stars made?

Stars come into existence because of a powerful force of nature called gravity. ESA/Hubble & NASA, Acknowledgement: Judy SchmidtIf you have a question you’d like an expert to answer, send it...

Orsola De Marco, Astrophysicist , Macquarie University - avatar Orsola De Marco, Astrophysicist , Macquarie University

What is perimenopause and how does it affect women's health in midlife?

Perimenopause lasts months for some women, and years for others. from www.shutterstock.comAll women know to expect the time in life when their periods finish and they reach menopause. Many might even...

Gita Mishra, Professor of Life Course Epidemiology, Faculty of Medicine, The University of Queensland - avatar Gita Mishra, Professor of Life Course Epidemiology, Faculty of Medicine, The University of Queensland

Vital signs. Our compulsory super system is broken. We ought to axe it, or completely reform it

We're taking money from people, letting it fall through the cracks, and spending no less than we were on pensions. ShutterstockThe just-announced inquiry into Australia’s retirement income syste...

Richard Holden, Professor of Economics, UNSW - avatar Richard Holden, Professor of Economics, UNSW

Might consciousness and free will be the aces up our sleeves when it comes to competing with robots?

Our advantage lies in incommensurables, and it'll grow in importance. Franck V. on UnsplashThe rise of artificial intelligence has led to widespread concern about the role of humans in the workplaces ...

Allan McCay, Law Lecturer, University of Sydney - avatar Allan McCay, Law Lecturer, University of Sydney

Should I stay or should I go: how 'city girls' can learn to feel at home in the country

Shutterstock/The ConversationA move to the country is often presented in popular culture as an idyllic life, a place where you can escape the pressures of the city. It’s in television shows su...

Rachael Wallis, Lecturer and Honorary Research Fellow, University of Southern Queensland - avatar Rachael Wallis, Lecturer and Honorary Research Fellow, University of Southern Queensland

Grattan on Friday: Storm clouds avoid the bush, darken over the economy

National Farmers' Federation president Fiona Simson says she doesn't think the government has a drought policy. ShutterstockGovernment sources insist shock jock Alan Jones didn’t drive Thursday&...

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra - avatar Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

Julianne Schultz appointed chair of The Conversation

Professor Julianne Schultz AM FAMA has been appointed chair of The Conversation Media Group, following the retirement of Harrison Young. Since becoming chairman in April 2017, Harrison has improved ...

Misha Ketchell, Editor & Executive Director, The Conversation - avatar Misha Ketchell, Editor & Executive Director, The Conversation

Cats are not scared off by dingoes. We must find another way to protect native animals

New research suggests feral cats can probably outsmart dingoes. Wikimedia/AAPFeral cats are wreaking havoc on our native wildlife, eating more than a billion animals across Australia every year. But ...

Bronwyn Fancourt, Adjunct Research Fellow, University of New England - avatar Bronwyn Fancourt, Adjunct Research Fellow, University of New England

Curious Kids: does chewing gum stay inside you for years?

Swallowing a lot of gum can cause it to stick together or stick to food in your gut. www.shuttershock.com, CC BYIf you have a question you’d like an expert to answer, send it to curiouskids@th...

Jerry Zhou, Lecturer, School of Medicine, Western Sydney University - avatar Jerry Zhou, Lecturer, School of Medicine, Western Sydney University

Don't believe your ears: 'enhancing' forensic audio can mislead juries in criminal trials

Audio used as evidence in criminal trials can often be unreliable.  Many criminal trials feature forensic evidence in the form of audio recordings, typically from bugging houses or cars, or intercep...

Helen Fraser, Adjunct Associate Professor, University of New England - avatar Helen Fraser, Adjunct Associate Professor, University of New England

The case for 'inclusion riders' in creative industries: what Australian discrimination law says about quotas

In March last year, Frances McDormand won the Academy Award for Best Actress. In her acceptance speech, she drew attention to the female nominees in the room and left them with two final words: &ldq...

Liam Elphick, Adjunct Research Fellow, Law School, University of Western Australia - avatar Liam Elphick, Adjunct Research Fellow, Law School, University of Western Australia

The Portal review: can meditation change the world?

The Portal uses individual stories of meditative transformation to suggest a bigger change is possible. SuppliedThe Portal follows six individuals who undergo a personal transformation from trauma an...

Peggy Kern, Associate professor, University of Melbourne - avatar Peggy Kern, Associate professor, University of Melbourne

Why white married women are more likely to vote for conservative parties

Women’s perceptions of 'gender linked fate' were contingent on two dimensions: their race and their marital status. ShutterstockThe polls were wrong in the last US and Australian federal electi...

Leah Ruppanner, Associate Professor in Sociology and Co-Director of The Policy Lab, University of Melbourne - avatar Leah Ruppanner, Associate Professor in Sociology and Co-Director of The Policy Lab, University of Melbourne

Thoughts and prayers: miracles, Christianity and praying for rain

In a speech in Albury last month, Prime Minister Scott Morrison told his audience that he was praying for rain in drought-affected areas. “I pray for that rain everywhere else around the count...

Philip C. Almond, Emeritus Professor in the History of Religious Thought, The University of Queensland - avatar Philip C. Almond, Emeritus Professor in the History of Religious Thought, The University of Queensland

Prime Minister's science prizes awarded for algebra expertise, anti-cancer research and excellence in science teaching

Cheryl Praeger was awarded the 2019 Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science. She has spent more than four decades inspiring a love for maths in others, and has created a vast body of academic work i...

Michael Hopkin, Science + Technology Editor, The Conversation - avatar Michael Hopkin, Science + Technology Editor, The Conversation

Curious Kids: is it OK to listen to music while studying?

Does music usually put you in a better mood? That might help you try a little bit harder and stick with challenging tasks. Shutterstock I am in year 11 and I like to listen to music when I am studyin...

Timothy Byron, Lecturer in Psychology, University of Wollongong - avatar Timothy Byron, Lecturer in Psychology, University of Wollongong

A requiem for Reformasi as Joko Widodo unravels Indonesia's democratic legacy

It’s deeply ironic that Indonesia’s third president, BJ Habibie, died on September 11 – less than a week before the national legislature passed a law that gutted the highly-regarded ...

Tim Lindsey, Malcolm Smith Professor of Asian Law and Director of the Centre for Indonesian Law, Islam and Society, University of Melbourne - avatar Tim Lindsey, Malcolm Smith Professor of Asian Law and Director of the Centre for Indonesian Law, Islam and Society, University of Melbourne

Sick and Tired of Your Dead End Job? Try Teaching!

Tired of the same old grind at the office? Want an opportunity to impact lives both in your community and around the world? Do you love to travel and have new experiences? Teaching English is the perfect job for you! All you need is a willingness to ...

News Company - avatar News Company

The Impact of an Aging Population in Australia

There’s an issue on the horizon that Australia needs to prepare for. The portion of elderly citizens that make up the country’s overall population is increasing, and we might not have the infrastructure in place to support this. Australians h...

News Company - avatar News Company

LifeStyle

Questions to ask yourself before buying your watch

There are more and more watches on the market. And more and more brands are trying to seduce consu...

How to Thoroughly Prepare Children for a Professional Photoshoot at a Studio

Children are only young for a moment, which is why, for a lot of parents, it's essential to take a...

What to Expect at the University of Florida Tour

The University of Florida is a dream college for most aspiring students. Not only because of its p...

7 Professions that Will Be Huge in the Next Decade

In order to embark on a career path that requires a lot of training and experience, you might ne...