(Aug. 9) A fresh produce costs study reveals a gulf between how consumers and the government define food serving sizes.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a fresh fruit or vegetable serving is a half a cup while most consumers consider a whole apple, orange, pear or banana as one serving.

The USDA based its serving size definitions on what people reported eating in national servings done in the 1960s, long before portion sizes started to increase in the mid-1980s, said Marion Nestle, author and chairwoman of the Department of Nutrition and Food Studies at New York University.

“By now, everyone is used to huge portion sizes so the defined ones look puny,” she said.

A positive side of the government’s smaller serving size is that, if followed, it might encourage more people to eat a greater variety of fruits and vegetables, Nestle said,
The study’s authors acknowledge the disparity, saying that many consumers are confused because serving sizes listed on nutrition labels often differ from those recommended in the Food Guide Pyramid.

“Consumers are therefore unable to accurately assess the cost of eating a Food Guide Pyramid serving of fruits and vegetables and may erroneously believe that cost is a barrier,” the study said.
This confusion, the study said, leads to erroneous decisions in the produce aisle.

Consumers may balk at the idea of paying 97 cents for a pound of peaches, not realizing that they will be getting four Food Guide Pyramid servings (half-cup) in a pound, which translates to 21 cents a serving, the study said.

The USDA study is called “How Much Do Americans Pay for Fruits and Vegetables?”