Serving Size is Arbitrary

Coca-Cola - 2 LitersServing size is listed at the top of the “Nutrition Facts” section of a food label. It’s something that you should be aware of. But what does it really mean? It’s important to be aware of it, but you have to look at the whole picture.

I once saw individually-wrapped cookies for sale in a coffee shop. They were about 3 or 4 inches in diameter. The nutrition facts said that a serving size was one-fourth of a cookie. So that one cookie was 4 servings. It’s likely that most people who bought one of the cookies at it all in one sitting. Yet all of the nutrition information reads much better if they set the serving size smaller.

Another example is sodas. On the Coca-Cola website you can find nutrition information for a 2 liter bottle. It says that a serving size is 8 ounces, and is 100 calories:

Coca Cola 2 liter Nutrition Facts

I found the same 2 liter bottle at the store and the serving size was 12 ounces – 140 calories:
Coca-Cola - 2 Liters - Nutrition Facts

Compare that to the 20 fluid ounce bottle. The website and the bottle agree on the serving size for the 20 ounce bottle. But in this case, a serving size is 1 bottle – 20 ounces – 240 calories:
Coca-Cola 20 Ounce with Nutrition Facts

So what does all of this tell us about serving sizes? First that the serving size is an arbitrary number determined by the manufacturer. But, and more importantly, it tells us that we should pay attention to the serving size, along with the other information, when deciding what and how much to consume.

Thanks for stopping by! Reading labels can be really confusing. And that’s by design!

Need help figuring your labels out? Leave a comment below or contact us.

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One thought on “Serving Size is Arbitrary”

  1. Arbitrary? Far from it!

    Coca-Cola is a massive company, they clearly have done their research, it’s just so specific that you see it as being arbitrary.

    When you’re surfing the Coca-Cola website, and thing to yourself “hmm, I could really go for a drink of some coke from a 2 litre bottle”, what you want is 8 ounces. You might not know this, but Big Coke does.

    However, when you’ve actually purchased a two litre bottle and want a drink from it, the mount you want is now 12 ounces. Again, you might not realize that, but Big Coke has got you covered.

    Now, when you’ve purchased a 20 ounce bottle, the amount you’re looking to drink is just the whole bottle. That one’s actually pretty easy for Big Coke to predict.

    And do not even get me started on Big Pepsi’s knowledge of your cravings, they know so much, they know that whenever someone opens a can of Pepsi One, they’re only going to drink less than a third of that can in the entire day! Luckily Pepsi never goes bad, and will taste as good four days later when you finish off the can as when you first cracked it!

    …In all seriousness, labelled amounts are often insane. It’s certainly underhanded and deceptive in some instances (the cookie whose servings were one fourth of the cookie), other times it’s just unnecessarily difficult for the consumer (232g cans of tuna that come with 100g servings… because when I want tuna, I want 43.1% of a can’s worth), and sometimes it’s just tricky for the company to work out, which I think is where the 2 litre bottle falls. Hopefully most people aren’t drinking an entire 2-litre bottle in one sitting, but how much are they drinking? What’s the average? I do think that the serving sizes should be visibly obvious, but putting the serving size as the entire bottle would seem like a bit much. The cookie should obviously be one serving each, same goes for a small container of cola, but for the two litre bottle, I would say just choose a division of the bottle, whether that’s 1 litre serving or 500 litre servings. You should be able to visibly determine a serving (it’s much easier to see that you’ve taken half out of a container than to see that you’ve taken 43.1% out).

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