I've always been a little skeptical that companies claim their food products have more servings so that they can reduce fat, cholesterol, or other numbers on the label.

Do companies choose to label a product with a higher number of serving sizes in order to manipulate the nutrition label values?

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    This is too open as asked. If reworded to post a specific claim about portion sizes (e.g. "companies use unrealistic portion sides to exaggerate benefit or minimise calorie content" then I think it would be OK. – matt_black May 21 '14 at 19:52
  • @matt_black, If there's no claim to be found, is there a health/nutrition SE where it would be appropriate to move to? cooking.SE and fitness.SE are the closest I can come up with, but I'm not sure it's on-topic at either of those places. – Brian S May 21 '14 at 20:12
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    I can see a skeptical claim in here trying to get out. When I find, while reading the chocolate packet, that I have consumed what is purported to be many "servings" in a single sitting, I scoff skeptically at the packaging and say "Sez who? Who eats that little as a full serving?" Does someone want to edit the question? – Oddthinking May 22 '14 at 0:50
  • I'm new to skeptics so I'm sorry it wasn't up to snuff around here. I've made a small change that should result in a more concrete answer. – Corey Ogburn May 22 '14 at 14:34
  • I saw a request to re-open this. I still don't have a clear idea of what exactly is being asked, or a good notable claim. Are you asking if the sizes are made smaller (or something else, since sizes seem to actually be increasing cdc.gov/makinghealtheasier/images/…)? – Larian LeQuella May 23 '14 at 2:00

At least in the United States, manufacturers are supposed to abide by the FDA's "reference amounts customarily consumed per eating occasion" when determining serving sizes. There are some notable rules for "single-serving" containers, rounding, and ingredients.

The base reference amounts are listed on the FDA's website.

The exception for single-serving containers comes into play when a food/item can reasonably be consumed in a "single-eating occasion". This is why you sometimes see a 12oz can of soda labeled as a single serving, while a 20oz bottle is listed as 2.5 (8oz servings).

Foods which are generally used as ingredients instead of being consumed directly (flour, baking soda, salt, etc.) will have "serving sizes" in common measurement amounts, rather than common consumption amounts.

Manufacturers regularly undergo FDA inspections, and will be issued warnings/fines if the standard is not met. For instance, if you don't measure your blintzes right, you may get one of these (see section 3).

I don't know the situation in other countries.

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  • Could a company take a product that a consumer sees as single serving and claim that the product is actually 2 (or more) servings? I've seen packages of cheez-its with maybe 15 squares in them marked as 2 servings. There's no way I'm going to not eat them all at once. – Corey Ogburn May 22 '14 at 14:36
  • Sure, if the FDA's guidelines match up more closely. Like the soda example, most consumers probably see a 20oz drink as single-serving (and some companies label them that way, while others use the 8oz serving size). Chips are another good example. Even on some small packages labeled "snack size", a serving is about an ounce, and the container has 2-3 servings IIRC. The FDA guidelines are based on a nationwide household survey done in the 70s, if I'm not mistaken. So either people back then grossly underestimated what they ate, or people just eat more now. – Is Begot May 22 '14 at 14:44

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