The FDA is redefining what it means for food to be “healthy.”
On Tuesday, the US Food and Drug Administration announced it was beginning the process of redefining which foods can be labelled as “healthy” on packaging.
“As our understanding about nutrition has evolved, we need to make sure the definition for the ‘healthy’ labelling claim stays up to date,” Douglas Balentine, director of the FDA’s office of nutrition and food labelling, wrote in the administration’s blog on Tuesday.
To be “healthy” in 2016, Balentine writes, is less about a low-fat diet, and more focused on healthy-versus-unhealthy fat, added sugars, and nutrients like vitamin D and potassium.
“By updating the definition, we hope more companies will use the ‘healthy’ claim as the basis for new product innovation and reformulation, providing consumers with a greater variety of ‘healthy’ choices in the marketplace,” he writes.
In recent years, our understanding of health has evolved away from the low-fat diets trends of the ’80s and ’90s, thanks to the rise of “good fats” and research linking sugar to weight gain and other health issues. Instead of fat being seen as public enemy No. 1, artificial ingredients are now more likely to be demonized.
As the FDA considers exactly what the new definition of healthy will be, it advises that foods that have higher healthy fat content, like avocados, can get away with being labelled as “healthy.” Additionally, the administration provided guidance that foods high in potassium and vitamin D can utilise this fact as the basis to be considered “healthy.”
The first step of the FDA’s process to redefine healthy involves gathering Americans’ opinions, with an open call for comments on the FDA’s website starting Wednesday.
One food maker has already called the FDA’s definition of health into question.
In 2015, the FDA sent a warning letter to Kind, saying that its nut-based bars exceeded “healthy” limits of 3 grams of total fat and 1 gram of saturated fat. Kind shot back, arguing that fat from fruits, vegetables, nuts and whole grains should not be automatically seen as unhealthy — a criticism the FDA seems to be taking to heart.
While the FDA is considering what exactly “healthy” means, food makers can continue to use the term on foods that meet the current regulatory definition — “food that is useful in creating a diet that is consistent with dietary recommendations if the food meets the conditions for total fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, and other nutrients.”