Serving Sizes and Portions

Portions and Servings: What’s the Difference?

portion is the amount of food that you choose to eat for a meal or snack. It can be big or small, you decide.

serving is a measured amount of food or drink, such as one slice of bread or one cup (eight ounces) of milk.

Many foods that come as a single portion actually contain multiple servings. The Nutrition Facts label on packaged foods, on the backs of cans, sides of boxes, etc. tells you the number of servings in the container.

For example, look at the label of a 20-ounce soda (usually consumed as one portion). It has 2.5 servings in it. A 3-ounce bag of chips, which some would consider a single portion, contains 3 servings.

Look at serving sizes on the nutrition label.

Portion Distortion

Average portion sizes have grown so much over the past 20 years that sometimes the plate arrives and there’s enough food for two or even three people on it. Growing portion sizes are changing what Americans think of as a “normal” portion at home too. We call it portion distortion.

Check out these examples of how larger portions lead to increased calories:

20 Years Ago20 Years AgoTodayToday
Bagel3” diameter1406” diameter350
1 cup sauce
3 small
5002 cups sauce
3 large
Soda6.5 ounces8220 ounces250
1.5 ounces2105 ounces500

Courtesy of The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute