In 2006, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration required the Nutrition Facts label to declare the amount of saturated fat and trans fat, which will continue to be listed.
But, the “Calories from Fat” item will disappear, with the proposed new label focusing on the overall calories and the amount of artificial sugar in a product.
Kristen Smith, a registered dietitian, said the WellStar Comprehensive Bariatric Services center adjacent to the Kennestone Hospital started by offering surgical options for obese patients, such as gastric bypass. Now the medical office is focusing on comprehensive exercise and dietary programs to help patients keep weight off long-term.
During a counseling session, Smith said she always includes a lesson on the nutritional label, which is legally required for most prepared foods, such as cereals, canned drinks, frozen foods and dessert snacks.
“I hope the newly proposed label will be more user friendly … and really gives the gist of what is in the product,” Smith said.
The proposed label by the FDA would list the amount of “added sugars,” including artificial sweeteners and high fructose corn syrup, so consumers can better understand how much sugar is naturally occurring and how much has been added to the product.
Diets high in sugar can cause diabetes, heart disease and hypertension, said Smith, who tells patients not to consume more than 10 grams of sugar per serving of any food or drink.
But with some products such as yogurt, Smith said that metric is nearly impossible to follow. So the new label will distinguish between natural sugars, which are absorbed slowly starting in the liver, and artificial sugars, which are broken down in the stomach and, if not burned quickly by exercise, are stored as fat.
Educating the public
Smith has lived in Cobb for about two years after moving from New York City, where she worked as a dietitian for 10 years.
While in New York City, Smith said she worked with a less-educated population, but there is still a high rate of obesity in Georgia.
“There is a lot of sweet tea,” Smith said about a difference in the Southern diet. “Obviously there are a lot of fried foods here.”
Ten years ago there was a movement to understand where the source of fat was coming from in food, since Smith said research showed that higher amounts of saturated fat increases the risk for heart disease, but unsaturated can be beneficial in moderation.
Foods with a high proportion of saturated fat are cheese, butter, and fatty meats, as well as many oils.
Smith said the push back by consumers against manufacturers to cut down on trans fat is the same conversation shoppers have started about added sugar.
A healthy marketplace
The recent focus by consumers to “re-evaluate products” has forced food companies to become “much more health conscious to stay competitive,” Smith said.
At the same time, the trend of looking for products branded as “diet” has changed to shoppers seeking “well-rounded,” “big picture” product information, Smith said.
The FDA has said it would give food manufacturers two years to comply with the new rules.
In the meantime, local farmers markets continue to offer basic, whole food options. Nutrition labeling for raw produce, such as fruits and vegetables, is voluntary.
Johnny Fulmer said he has always been food and health conscious, which is why he started the Marietta Square Farmers Market 12 years ago, “along with wanting to wake up Marietta on a Saturday morning.”
The Marietta Square Farmers Market offers selections of vegetables, fruits, baked goods, raw local honey, eggs, goat cheese and milk, dog biscuits, shrimp, pork sausage and bacon, vinegars and olive oils.
“I don’t want to eat a product that has a bunch of chemicals in it,” Fulmer said about the produce, which is mostly organic or certified naturally grown, as opposed to food that comes from factory farms or contains ingredients that originated in a chemist’s laboratory.
Fulmer said local shoppers have led the way in making the market a success, because they appreciate learning about a product and how it was made.
“That person is standing right there in front of them,” Fulmer said.
IF YOU GO ...
— WHAT: Nutrition for Weight Management & Optimal Health program
— WHO: Presented by a WellStar registered dietitian
— WHY: To provide information on diet, the basic properties of food, and solutions to overcoming barriers to living a healthy lifestyle
— WHEN: Noon on Thursday, March 13
— WHERE: Glover Park on the Marietta Square — Bring your own chair or blanket and lunch