What’s In A Serving?

Editor’s note: As the Produce Marketing Association (PMA), Newark, DE, began funding more and more consumer and trade research, Produce Business reached out to PMA to broadcast its important research to the wider produce community. As such, this month, we inaugurate a new column, Research Perspectives, to be written by a member of the PMA staff and to focus on findings of different PMA research studies each month.

Recognizing that research is a continual process and that the industry benefits by questioning, reviewing and reflecting on the premises, methodologies and results of research, PMA has invited Jim Prevor, president and editor-in-chief of Produce Business, to add comments and analysis when appropriate. Sometimes PMA may decide to respond to the comments.

Over time we expect a lot of point/counterpoint and a few heated battles, but mostly, both PMA and Produce Business hope and believe the process will lead not only to a greater understanding of the research that has been done but also to better and more productive research in the future. Both of these results will benefit the entire industry.

To further industry dialogue on these matters, PMA members and all readers of Produce Business are invited to contribute their thoughts on these issues to [email protected]

A scoopful of mushrooms?

A handful of mushrooms?

84 grams (1.2 cups) of mushrooms?

½ cup of mushrooms?

The amount of food that constitutes a “serving” seems to be in the eye of the beholder, and that leads to vast confusion about how much food we should be eating. Forget about the confusion between a “serving” of pasta that should feed a family of four at an Italian restaurant and the ½ cup that constitutes a serving of pasta from a dietitian’s perspective. Let’s talk about just produce.

PMA recently conducted consumer research into this topic: When asked to define what a “serving” represents, consumers gave us a range of answers including “less than one cup,” “one piece,” “a handful or fistful” and a “scoopful.” However, 81 percent agreed that it is easier for them to understand a daily amount of fruits and vegetables when that amount is described as cups rather than servings. The figures for men and women did not differ significantly.

Perhaps the key test of understanding came on two questions that pitted the recommendation of “5 to 13 servings a day” against the same amount expressed as “2½ to 6½ cups a day.” The results show that 43 percent of consumers think the “cup” wording is about the right amount that they could reasonably eat, while only 26 percent expressed the same view about the “serving” wording — even though both represent the same amounts of fruits and vegetables! Conversely, we found that 43 percent of consumers thought the “serving” wording was “much more” than they could reasonably eat in one day while only 28 percent felt the same way about the “cup” wording.

OK, so consumers are confused. Let’s turn to the experts, the dietary experts in the U.S. government, for a standard. There we find more confusion.

For purposes of implementing provisions in the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act of 1990 (NLEA), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has defined “serving” or “serving size” to mean “the amount of food customarily consumed per eating occasion by persons 4 years of age or older, which is expressed in a common household measure that is appropriate to the food.”

Then we have the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which provides authoritative advice for people 2 years and older about how good dietary habits can promote health and reduce risk for major chronic diseases. The 2005 edition of the Guidelines was released Jan. 12, 2005. In it, the serving size for fruits and vegetables is defined as ½ cup.

How far apart can “the amount customarily consumed” and ½ cup be? In the case of mushrooms, the NLEA serving is 84 grams (1.2 cups). Translating that to the ½ cup serving measure in the Dietary Guidelines, you get nearly 2.5 servings. And that’s not the largest divergence. A few more examples:

Green onion: NLEA serving is ¼ cup (25g), which is only ½ of a Dietary Guidelines serving.

Broccoli: NLEA serving is 1 medium stalk (148g, 1.68 cups), which is 3.3 Dietary Guidelines servings.

Apple: NLEA serving is 1 medium apple (154g, 1.23 cups), which is 2.5 Dietary Guidelines servings.

Do any of the serving sizes match up according to the government? Yes. In the top 20 fruits and top 20 vegetables, tangerines and sweet corn are consistent. One NLEA serving for each of them is the same as one Dietary Guidelines serving. None of the others match.

PMA has called on the government to do what it can to provide meaningful, non-contradictory information to consumers. That process will take time, though, if it comes to pass at all.

Given that consumers are confused and the government is using conflicting terminology, what does this mean for our industry? We can anticipate the day when all fresh produce offers such a consistently tasty, convenient and healthful eating experience that rather than encouraging increased consumption, we’re producing like mad to meet the demand.

But for right now, perhaps it is up to us to reduce the information clutter and give consumers tools they can use to help them increase fresh produce consumption. PMA’s research has shown that consumers relate to cups better than servings. For most fresh produce, one serving is ½ cup (leafy greens are 1 cup). On average, consumers should be eating 2 cups of fruit and 2.5 cups of vegetables a day (9 servings).

PMA suggested that the FDA change the Nutrition Facts Panel to include the equivalent number of servings the product would provide based on the Dietary Guidelines. For example:


Serving Size: 2 medium stalks (110g)

This amount provides about 1 cup or 2 recommended daily servings of vegetables


Serving Size: 1 medium (154g)

This amount provides about 1 cup or 2 recommended daily servings of fruit

There are other solutions out there. And this industry has the smart marketing minds to figure out the best ones. Let’s work to end the confusion. When consumers are in the grocery store or at the restaurant, we don’t want them focused on serving sizes. We want them focused on delicious, convenient, nutritious fresh produce. Let’s make it easy for them to do that.


Top 20 Most
Frequently Consumed
FDA’s Current (Proposed)
Nutrition Facts
Serving Weight
FDA’s Current (Proposed)
Nutrition Facts
Household Measures
USDA Database
1-Cup Equivalents
# of Cups
In The Nutrition
Facts Serving
Number of
Dietary Guidelines “Servings”
In One Nutrition Facts Serving
Apple 154 g 1 medium 1 cup quartered (125 g) 1.23 2.5
Avocado 30 g 1/5 medium 1 cup sliced (146 g) 0.21 0.5
Banana 126 g 1 medium 1 cup sliced (150 g) 0.84 1.75
Cantaloupe 134 g ¼ medium 1 cup diced (156 g) 0.86 1.75
Grapefruit 154 g ½ medium 1 cup sections & juice (230 g) 0.67 1.33
Grapes 126 g ¾ cup 1 cup, seedless (160 g) 0.79 1.5
Honeydew Melon 134 g 1/10 medium 1 cup diced (170 g) 0.79 1.5
Kiwifruit 148 g 2 medium N/A 1.00 2
Lemon 58 g 1 medium 1 cup sections (212 g) 0.27 0.5
Lime 67 g 1 medium N/A 0.32 0.66
Nectarine 140 g 1 medium 1 cup slices (138 g) 1.00 2
Orange 154 g 1 medium 1 cup sections (165 g) 0.93 1.75
Peach 147 g 1 medium 1 cup slices (170 g) 0.86 1.75
Pear 166 g 1 medium 1 cup slices (138 g) 1.20 2.5
Pineapple 112 g 2 slices (3″ diameter, ¾” thick) 1 cup diced (155 g) 0.72 1.5
Plums 151 g 2 medium 1 cup sliced (165 g) 0.92 1.75
Strawberries 147 g 8 medium 1 cup whole (144 g) 1.02 2
Sweet Cherries 140 g 1 cup (21 cherries) 1 cup without pits (145 g) 0.97 2
Tangerine 109 g 1 medium 1 cup sections (195 g) 0.56 1
Watermelon 280 g 1/18 medium, 2 cups diced pieces 1 cup diced (152 g) 1.84 3.66