The FDA wants to update the definition of healthy. They have proposed new criteria for when food can claim to be “healthy” on its label. The new rules could use nutrition science and Dietary Guidelines.
“Nutrition is key to improving our nation’s health,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra. “Healthy food can lower our risk for chronic disease. But too many people may not know what constitutes healthy food. FDA’s move will help educate more Americans to improve health outcomes, tackle health disparities and save lives.”
To be labeled as “healthy” foods would need to meet goals. They would need to contain an amount of beneficial food like fruit or vegetable per the Dietary Guidelines. They would also need specific levels of saturated fat, sodium and added sugar. The amounts would vary depending on what type of food it was. For instance, a dairy product may allow for more sodium than a fruit product.
We like moves like these. They empower people to make healthier choices without restricting choices. They also help people learn what is in their food. Often, we eat things believing we’re being “good” when they are filled with things we wouldn’t choose if the labels were clearer. Easily understood labeling helps us be educated and make the right choices for ourselves.
“Diet-related chronic diseases, such as cardiovascular disease and [blood sugar concerns], are the leading causes of death and disability in the U.S.,” said FDA Commissioner Dr. Robert Califf. “Today’s action is an important step toward accomplishing a number of nutrition-related priorities, which include empowering consumers with information to choose healthier diets and establishing healthy eating habits early. It can also result in a healthier food supply.”
The FDA also wants to move the nutrition labels to the front of the package, so you know what you’re getting before you grab it off the shelf. Anything that makes nutritional information more readily accessible is excellent. You can compare brands as you browse and know at a glance if it’s a product that fits your needs.
“Healthy” is a regulated claim. That means there are rules around using it. They were defined in 1994. Nutritional science has evolved, and our understanding of what makes food healthy has changed. Currently, to be labeled as “healthy,” a food must have limits on fat, saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium and minimum levels of vitamins A and C, calcium, fiber, iron and protein. These regulations allow food that is high in added sugar to be labeled as “healthy.” But something like fatty fish can’t be.
We hope for clearer, more easily understood food labels in the future that help us get in and out of the supermarket quickly with the best choices!