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Home > Frequently Asked Questions > What about Serving Sizes?

What about Serving Sizes?

Serving sizes cause a great deal of confusion for many people. This confusion stems from the use of various terms (such as “portion size” or “serving size”) and differences in how people perceive the amount of food they eat.

In practical terms, most people consider a “portion” of a food to be the amount of the food that is on their plate regardless of the actual quantity of the food that is on their plate!  There are also “food guide servings,” which are typical amounts of various foods in the four food groups in Eating Well with Canada's Food Guide and regulated “serving sizes,” which are used for nutrition labelling purposes on the Nutrition Facts table.

The nutrition labelling regulations of breakfast cereals mandate four serving size categories depending on the type of product. These categories have been established according to how much (the grams or weight amount) of a breakfast cereal makes up a typical amount of the breakfast cereal consumed at one eating occasion. These grams or weight amounts are different because breakfast cereals come in different shapes and sizes and are made with different ingredients. It would be pretty boring otherwise!

Regulated Serving Sizes for Nutrition Labelling
of Breakfast Cereals
30-40 grams dry — for hot breakfast cereals
10-20 grams — for “light and fluffy” puffed type of breakfast cereals

20-45 grams — for other types of breakfast cereals that are puffed and coated, flaked or very high fibre

45-80 grams — for fruit and nut types of breakfast cereals, granolas and biscuit types of products

Yet what do these grams or weight amounts mean in practical terms of how aures (such as cups or fractions of a cup) in the serving information on the Nutrition Facts table; and the grams are also provided in brackets beside the household measure. So be sure to check the Nutrition Facts table on the box of your favourite breakfast cereal to determine how much makes up one serving in an amount that is more familiar with the way you eat. 

But just to make things more complicated, the savvy consumer in comparing various breakfast cereals might notice that the same weight amount (e.g., 30 grams) of one breakfast cereal is a different size in a household measure (cup) than the same 30 gram amount of another breakfast cereal! What gives? This difference depends on the format (including the size, shape and ingredients) of the breakfast cereal. Visualize a breakfast cereal in the format of small and dense (or heavy) and compact nuggets compared with another product in the format of lighter flakes or other irregular shapes that can be “extruded” (such as O’s or pinwheels). The same weight amount of these different breakfast cereals takes up different volumes (or space) due to the different formats. So a smaller volume (perhaps one-third of a cup) of a breakfast cereal in a denser and more compact format would weigh 30 grams compared with a breakfast cereal in a lighter flaked or other irregularly shaped format, in which case it would take a larger volume (perhaps three-quarters of a cup) of to get to a weight of 30 grams.

The easiest way to consider a breakfast cereal serving is to look at the amount in the common household measure in the serving information on the Nutrition Facts table. Here are some images to help you visualize how much is a cup or half a cup. It is also useful to know that the serving size on the Nutrition Facts table is a reference point based on typical practices and you might eat more or less depending on your dietary needs and goals.

serving sizes