The FDA is redefining healthy food

As our knowledge of nutrition evolved, the FDA’s definition of “healthy” failed to keep pace. That’s changing.

Zachary Crockett

Eating healthy is confusing. Fruit? Sure. Fruit snacks? Not so much.

As an FDA-regulated term, “healthy” is outdated. That’s why this week the FDA finally proposed new criteria for manufacturers that want to use the term on US packaging.

Back in 1994…

… the FDA released its first definition of “healthy.” It largely focused on fat content, meaning a sugary cereal could pass, but not salmon or avocados.

In 2015, the FDA told Kind it couldn’t call some of its snack bars “healthy” due to their saturated fat content. Kind argued it came from nuts.

This led to a push for an updated definition, and a public hearing on the matter occurred in 2017.

Updated rules…

… would automatically count water and raw whole fruits and veggies as healthy. Other products would have to:

  • Contain a meaningful amount of food from at least one of the food groups or subgroups (e.g., fruit, vegetables, protein, dairy, etc.)” as recommended by the federal Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
  • Fall under limits for sugar, sodium, and saturated fats. Nuts and seeds would not count toward saturated fat limits.

Example: Cereal would need three-quarter ounces of whole grains, and less than 2.5 grams of added sugars.

Would it make us healthier?

The healthy label is voluntary, and ~5% of foods have it, per CNN. It’s unclear if manufacturers would be motivated to reformulate products to meet tighter parameters.

The FDA has also proposed slapping a symbol on healthy foods to help shoppers quickly identify them.

But the Center for Science in the Public Interest thinks it’d work better to warn consumers of particularly unhealthy foods.

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