What is a ‘serve’ of breakfast cereal? Well that depends. Are we talking serve size, serving size or portion size and how much should we eat? The terminology can be confusing so let’s start at the beginning.
A ‘standard serve’
The Australian Government’s Australian Guide to Healthy Eating (AGHE) describes a ‘standard serve’ of grain foods. For breakfast cereals one standard serve is about 30g, equivalent to 500kJ. These ‘standard serves’ are actually a unit of measurement to allow for dietary planning and assessment. They are not necessarily the portion size required for an adequate breakfast.
For most people, AGHE recommends eating 4-6 ‘standard serves’ of core grain foods (cereal foods) each day, mostly whole grain and high cereal fibre varieties1. Additional serves of grain foods or other foods are needed to meet the energy needs of tall people, growing teenagers, active people, and pregnant and breastfeeding women, and others with high energy requirements. The average number of ‘standard serves’ recommended for each age group of children and adults is available at the Government’s Eat for Health website.
What’s a portion? Or how much should you eat at breakfast?
Using the AGHE ‘standard serve’ as our measure, for an adequate, nutrient-rich breakfast consisting of breakfast cereal, milk and fruit, young children need one standard serve (30g) of breakfast cereal. Older children and adults may need two standard serves (60g) or more depending on their needs.
The suggested meal plans in the AGHE include two serves of grain foods or 60g breakfast cereal for adults at breakfast. Others with higher energy needs will require more so it is not unusual to see meal plans for athletes with three serves (90g) of breakfast cereal a day or more.
This is ‘portion size’ – the amount of food an individual eats in a single meal or snack. A portion may be made up of one or more serves to best suit individual needs.
Regardless of the terminology, the fact is many Australians are getting it right when it comes to the portion size of breakfast cereal they eat.
The Australian Health Survey showed the median amount consumed by adults, who ate breakfast cereal on the day of the survey, was approximately 48g/day for ready-to- eat breakfast cereal and 203g for hot porridge type cereals (around 40g raw oats). Naturally the median intakes are a bit higher than this for men, especially younger men, and less for women as their energy needs differ. The median intakes for younger children were around 30g2.
At breakfast it is important to consume valuable whole grains and cereal fibre foods. Breakfast cereals are a leading source of whole grains for Australians, providing 43% of our whole grain intake3. Breakfast cereals also facilitate dairy food (milk/yoghurt) and fruit consumption, and many Australians need to eat more of these foods to achieve basic nutrient needs.
What is ‘serving size’ on the breakfast cereal pack?
So with ‘standard serve’ and ‘portion size’ covered, what does ‘serving size’ on the side of a cereal packet refer to?
The ‘serving size’ listed on pack reflects a realistic portion size of the food that an average person might normally consume at a meal or snack as part of a healthy diet. Serving sizes vary based on the type of breakfast cereal and nutritional needs of people who are most likely to consume the product.
For breakfast cereals, most serving sizes are around 30-50g in keeping with the AGHE 1-2 serves or 30-60g suggested for breakfast. Serving size information must be listed on pack in the Nutrition Information Panel.
- Eat for Health. Australian Dietary Guidelines. Commonwealth of Australia 2013. https://www.eatforhealth.gov.au/food-essentials/how-much-do-we-need-each-day
- Australian Health Survey: Nutrition First Results 2011-2012. A summary of data for the breakfast cereal category. ABCMF. Unpublished.
- Grains and Legumes Nutrition Council (GLNC). GLNC 2014 Grains and Legumes Consumption and Attitudinal Study. http://www.glnc.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Australians-at-Risk-2014-Grains-Legumes-Consumption-Attitudinal-Study.pdf