What’s an average serving? Portion size guidance ‘no longer fit for purpose’

Portion sizes have increased in many food categories over the past 20 years

European guidance on portion sizing is out of date and does not reflect how portion sizes have changed over time, claims a new report from the British Heart Foundation (BHF).

Recent EU legislation on the provision of food information to consumers (FIC) specifies that food portions should be easily recognisable and quantified on food labelling, but it does not provide guidance on how to quantify a portion on pack, the BHF said.

In the UK, the government has recommended that industry display per portion values on front-of-pack nutrition labels for calories, saturated and total fat, sugar and salt, and therefore, the BHF argues it is necessary to base this information on realistic portion sizes.

With that in mind, the organisation commissioned research to compare current portion sizes with those provided in a 1993 government publication, Food Portion Sizes. It found an increase across most categories over the past 20 years, including for muffins, bagels, pizzas, pies and ready meals.

“We know that portion sizes influence how much we eat. Put simply, larger portions encourage us to eat more – and shape our view of what is a normal amount to eat,” BHF chief executive Simon Gillespie said in a foreword to the report.

Who ate all the pie?

In one case, a chicken curry and rice ready meal was 53% larger today than it was in 1993, providing an extra 420 calories. On average, individual meat lasagne servings were 39% larger, and individual chicken pies were 40% larger.

However, some portion sizes had shrunk. Average tortellini portions were 49% smaller than those of 20 years ago, milk chocolate bars tended to be smaller than the 1993 average of 54 g and ice creams also tended to be smaller today.

The portion size of some single-serve products, including crisps, corn flakes, and cheddar cheese, were all identical to the information provided twenty years ago.

“Our research shows that manufacturers have moved away from the government’s 1993 publication to the extent that this is no longer fit for purpose in helping retailers to size portions appropriately to reflect a 2013 portion size,” the BHF said. “As a result, this is making it difficult for consumers to compare products across different brands and control their portion sizes.”

The organisation urged food companies to help the government to ensure that portion sizes were standardised across the industry, and to adopt the recommended – but not mandatory – front-of-pack nutrition labelling.

Related News

Low fat labelling may encourage consumption

Low fat labelling may encourage consumption

European ready meal market dominated by France, Germany and UK: Report

European ready meal market dominated by France, Germany and UK: Report

Too many front-of-pack logos are problematic for business, says Unilever's Paul Whitehouse

WHO calls for standardised nutrition labelling

Portion size science: There is still a lot we do not know, says review

Portion size science: There is still a lot we do not know, says review

Being immersed in a storyline distracts us from feeling full and realising how much we have snacked

The better the story, the bigger the serving! TV distracts us into snacking

Nestlé's new Wonka chocolate bars contain around 500kcal per 100g, around the market norm, but too much for anti-obesity campaigners. Photo Credit: Warner Bros and Nestlé

Nestlé UK defends calories in Wonka Chocolates

Fish consumption guidelines should take into account fish stocks as well as health, the report suggests

UK project proposes eco-friendly healthy eating guide

Submit a comment

Your comment has been saved

Post a comment

Please note that any information that you supply is protected by our Privacy and Cookie Policy. Access to all documents and request for further information are available to all users at no costs, In order to provide you with this free service, William Reed Business Media SAS does share your information with companies that have content on this site. When you access a document or request further information from this site, your information maybe shared with the owners of that document or information.