Monday, March 8, 2010

Keep an Eye on the Serving Size.

I see my patients make this mistake all the time. They look at the calories, fat, protein, or calcium on a food label without first looking at the serving size. Why is looking at serving size so important? All of the numbers on that label – the fat, calories, protein, calcium, vitamin C, etc. – are for the serving size that is defined on the label. That serving size is not always realistic or what you actually eat.

One of my favorite lunches to take to work is Amy’s Enchiladas. They’re yummy and cheesy and I easily eat the whole package. But there are two servings in that whole package. So the 250 calories on the label is really 500 calories. Now that’s o.k. If I didn’t eat the whole package, I’d be starving by 3:00. The idea is that I want to know what I’m getting without being fooled. And who’s going microwave the container, eat half and then reheat the rest for lunch the next day? Not me.

Foods labels are not the only place that serving sizes can fool you. You’ve got to focus on the serving size on nutrition supplements like multivitamins and calcium supplements too.  Just last week, one of my patients thought she was getting 1800 mg of calcium from her supplements. The label said “Calcium 600 mg” and she was taking three tablets a day. However, the serving size was 2 tablets. So that 600 mg of calcium was for two tablets, not one. She was really getting 900 mg of calcium. Now it turns out that she only needed 900 mg of calcium from her supplements because she was getting the rest of what she needed from her diet, but the label was confusing.

So, always check the serving size first on both supplements (such as multivitamins, calcium supplements) and on your food labels. It’s not always what you would expect. This doesn’t mean you have to eat what they say a serving size is, just don’t let the numbers fool you!

Beth Kitchin, MS RD
Assistant Professor
UAB Department of Nutrition Sciences

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