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What I Learned Eating the Recommended Serving Size

Picture this: A sleep-deprived college student wanders into the kitchen and reaches for her favorite cereal box. In the process of finding the cereal, she catches a glimpse of the food label on the side of the box outlining the suggested serving size. But being as sleep-deprived as she is, she chooses to ignore this and proceeds to pour herself a bowl of cereal. 

I am a sleep-deprived college student. In my busy life, I have never adhered to the suggested serving size on any of the food I eat, much less follow the suggestion. However, with the extra time I’ve had lately, I thought it would be an interesting idea to see what it would be like to eat the suggested serving size of food. I wanted to see if the amount I was eating was more or less than the suggested serving size. I also wanted to test if the serving size was realistic to real life or not. I expected to find I was eating over the suggested serving size and to be hungry more often. 

The suggested serving size is based on a 2,000 calorie diet. However, everyone’s caloric intake is different and varies based on age, weight, height, and physical activity. For example, I am a 4’ 10” person, and I usually eat around 1,500 calories every day. 

This is what I learned when I ate the recommended serving size of food.  

 

Vegetables: Carrots

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On the label of a package of carrots, the suggested serving size is three ounces. I was startled to find the number of carrots it took to weigh three ounces. I normally eat a handful of carrots and hope that there are enough vegetables for one meal. When compared to the number of carrots I would normally eat, there was a large difference, I found the serving size of carrots to also be unrealistic to my diet because I had never eaten that many carrots in one serving before. 

*My serving size on the left, suggested on the right

 

Creamer in Coffee

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 On the label for the creamer, the suggested serving size is one tablespoon. When I tried a cup of coffee with just one tablespoon in it there was still too much of a coffee taste for my liking. The amount I found I used normally was four tablespoons. Realistically, no one measures their creamer out in the morning. Therefore, I found the suggested serving size for coffee creamer to be unrealistic. 

*My serving size on the left, suggested on the right

 

Breakfast: Oatmeal

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The label on a container of oatmeal has a suggested serving size of half of a cup of dry oats. I normally eat one-fourth of a cup of oatmeal and found half a cup of oatmeal was pretty difficult to finish. I found the serving size to be realistic because not only was it generous, but I was left feeling full. I also topped my oatmeal with half of a banana and peanut butter. The suggested serving size for peanut butter is one tablespoon. When I put that on my oatmeal, there was an overwhelming taste of peanuts. When compared to the amount I would normally top my oatmeal with, I found I only used one half of a tablespoon. The suggested serving size of peanut butter was unrealistic for topping oatmeal with. However, I believe the serving size would have been realistic for a sandwich. 

*My serving size on the right, suggested on the left

 

Fruit

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The suggested serving size of fruit is one cup. When compared to the amount I would normally eat, I found that I eat around a cup of fruit. Since I eat an amount close to the suggested serving size, the serving size of fruit is very realistic for my diet. 

*My serving size on the right, suggested on the left

 

Protein: Chicken

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The suggested serving size of protein, specifically chicken is around three to four ounces. I initially thought three ounces sounded like generous serving size, However, when I measured out the suggested amount of chicken, I was surprised to find the amount was smaller than I anticipated. When I measured the amount I would normally eat, the suggested amount was more. After eating the suggested serving size, I found the serving size of a chicken to be realistic because I was satisfied and full. 

*My serving size on the right, suggested on the left

 

Snack: Popcorn

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The suggested serving size of popcorn is one cup. I never measure the amount of food I eat for a snack, so I knew immediately one cup of popcorn would not satisfy me for a snack. When compared to the amount I would eat normally, I found I would eat three cups of popcorn. The serving size of popcorn was unrealistic because I was left unsatisfied and knew I could definitely eat more. 

*My serving size on the left, suggested on the right

 

Grain: Pasta

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The suggested serving size is two ounces. I measured the pasta out dry, so I did not think there would even be enough pasta for one person. However, after cooking it, I found it to be a very realistic serving size. I also measured pre-bottled pasta sauce out to put on my pasta. The suggested serving size on the label said one-fourth of a cup. After combining both the sauce and pasta together, I found the serving sizes to be similar, but I do eat slightly less pasta than the suggested amount. One difference was the amount of sauce the portion I would normally eat had on it. My preference is to have pasta that is not dry, so I normally have more pasta sauce than is recommended on my pasta. I concluded that the suggested serving size for pasta is realistic once it is cooked. The suggested serving size of pre-bottled pasta sauce was realistic since my pasta had an even coating of sauce everywhere. 

*My serving size on the right, suggested on the left

 

Beverage: Almond Milk

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The suggested serving size of almond milk is one cup. When compared to the amount of milk I would normally drink, I was surprised to find that I drank exactly a cup of milk. I use a small glass whenever I drink milk, so I thought I would definitely be drinking under a cup. I found the serving size of milk to be very realistic. I was left feeling like I had enough milk to be satisfied and did not feel as though the serving size was underestimating how much I would drink. 

*My serving size on the right, suggested on the left

 

Dessert: Ice Cream

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The suggested serving size of ice cream is two-thirds of a cup. At first, when I read two-thirds, I did not think that would be enough. However, when I measured it out, two-thirds were more than I thought it would be. Compared to the amount I would normally eat, I found the serving size to be realistic. 

*My serving size on the right, suggested on the left

 

Final Thoughts

While I expected to find the suggested was underestimating the portions I should be eating, I found that the opposite was true. For most of the meals I ate, I had a difficult time finishing everything. I also learned I should be eating more vegetables but every other portion size seemed to accurately describe the amount I normally eat. Eating the suggested serving size taught me to listen to my body and what it was saying. The suggested serving size is a suggestion for a reason; it is meant to be a guide, not a set rule. 

Hi there! My name is Mia Knapp, and I am currently a second year at the University of Iowa. I am majoring in Journalism and Mass Communication along with a business minor. In my free time, you can find me enjoying a caramel latte, spending time with my dog, or hanging out with my friends and family.
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