02/17/2012 02:18 pm ET

The Future of Nutrition Labels: Making It Easier to Be Portion-Savvy

Want to start shopping like a nutritionist? Stay on the perimeter of your grocery store, delving into the inner aisles for certain essentials only when necessary. This way, you'll end up with a basket full of fruits, vegetables, dairy and lean proteins. Although we want these products, we don't know specific nutrient numbers for them without a nutrition fact label on every item. The Nutrition Labeling and Education Act of 1990 required nutrition information to be on packaged foods only. So, why do some items not need a label? What are the laws set by the FDA and USDA? How do you know if the serving size is appropriate for your diet?

1. Packaged food is required by the FDA and the USDA to contain certain information: name of product, net quantity by weight, serving size and number of servings, nutrition facts, ingredient lists and the name of the manufacturer.

2. Most label requirements are not applied to meat, poultry and raw fruits and vegetables.

3. Currently, nutrition fact labels are based on the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for a person on a 2,000-calorie diet. This particular level is not a weight loss amount for most people! People trying to lose weight may need to adjust their serving size if a lower-calorie diet is necessary.

With all these questions, it's no surprise that the government is finally establishing more label laws. A mandatory meat nutrition label, due to go in effect Jan. 1, 2012, was pushed back until March 1, 2012 by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service. This rule will concern 40 of the most popular cuts of all "single-ingredient muscle cuts and ground meat and poultry products." The label will include calories, total fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium, protein, iron and total carb content.

Imagine if this trend continued... if a simple label depicted nutrient and calorie levels on everything being sold in the markets. Would consumers be able to compare fruits and vegetables to packaged foods? Would they make better choices upon viewing the low-calorie, high-nutrition content of healthier options? I can only hope!

For more by Carrie Wiatt, M.S. click here.

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