FDA redefines healthy
The FDA is proposing to redefine the term “healthy” as part of a National Strategy to “end hunger and increase healthy eating and physical activity by 2030.”
The proposed changes are part of a broader effort to update nutrition labeling requirements and help consumers make more informed choices about their diets in order to prevent and manage diet-related diseases like obesity, diabetes, and hypertension.
“Nutrition is key to improving our nation’s health,” said HHS 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.”
The new definition of “healthy” would reflect the most up-to-date dietary guidelines and scientific evidence on the relationship between diet and health.
- Update the definition of “healthy” to reflect changes in dietary recommendations and latest scientific research
- Create a “healthy” symbol that designated and FDA-approved “healthy” food item that companies can use voluntarily
- Front-of-package labeling standard that will show nutrition information
- Dietary Guidance Statement on food labels
- Establishing nutrition labeling guidance for online shopping
The current definition of “healthy” on food labels refers to products that meet specific nutrient criteria, such as low fat, low sodium, and low cholesterol. However, the FDA now wants to expand the definition to include other factors such as the type of fat, added sugars, and whole foods.
Fat is in, sugar is out
One of the key changes in the proposed definition of “healthy” is the inclusion of healthy fats, such as those found in avocados, nuts, and olive oil. The current definition of “healthy” only considers the total amount of fat in a food product, without distinguishing between different types of fats. However, research has shown that certain types of fats, such as monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, can have health benefits and should be included as part of a healthy diet.
The new definition requires “healthy” food:
- Contain a substantial quantity of food from at least one of the food groups suggested by the Dietary Guidelines (i.e. fruit, vegetable, dairy, etc.)
- Not exceed specific limits for disease-related components like saturated fat, sodium, and added sugars.
The FDA proposes that the nutrient limit for saturated fat, sodium, and added sugars be based on a percentage calculation depending on the food and food group. From the FDA’s example, “a cereal would need to contain .75 ounces of whole grains and contain no more than 1 gram of saturated fat, 230 milligrams of sodium, and 2.5 grams of added sugars.”
The current definition of “healthy” does not consider added sugars, which can contribute to obesity, diabetes, and other health problems. By including added sugars in the definition, the FDA hopes to encourage food manufacturers to reduce the amount of added sugars in their products and help consumers make healthier choices.
The new definition will put many foods that Americans have perceived as “healthy” into perspective – most cereals including Cheerios do not make the cut and many food manufacturing companies are against the changes.
Cheerios’s maker General Mills claims the new rules violate the companies’ rights to free speech. Kellogg responded to the FDA proposal claiming that the rule, “automatically disqualifies entire categories of nutrient dense foods.”
New rules reflect changing attitudes toward food as medicine
The FDA proposal reflects a growing change in the healthcare industry toward respecting diet as the primary predictor of health outcomes and as the first “medicine” in managing chronic diseases.
“Diet-related chronic diseases, such as cardiovascular disease and Type 2 diabetes, are the leading causes of death and disability in the U.S. and disproportionately impact racial and ethnic minority groups,” said FDA Commissioner Robert M. Califf, M.D in a press release.
“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.”