FDA Proposes Changes to ‘Healthy’ Definition on Food Packaging

Mimi Nguyen Ly
By Mimi Nguyen Ly
September 29Healthshare
FDA Proposes Changes to ‘Healthy’ Definition on Food Packaging
Shoppers walk through a grocery store in Washington on June 14, 2022. (Stefani Reynolds /AFP via Getty Images)

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Sept. 28 proposed changes to what criteria certain food product should meet for it to be labeled “healthy.”

According to the FDA, the proposed rule would update the definition of “healthy” to “better account for how all the nutrients in various food groups contribute and may work synergistically to create healthy dietary patterns and improve health.”

The current “healthy” definition was first implemented in 1994.  That definition meant that foods must contain certain minimum amounts of individual nutrients including vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium, iron, protein, and dietary fiber. It also set limits on total fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, and sodium, in order for a food product to bear the “healthy” label.

Under the existing definition, about five percent of foods in the marketplace would qualify as “healthy.” According to the FDA, changes in nutrition science and federal dietary guidance since 1994 have made the current “healthy” definition outdated.

Its proposed definition, however, is based on current nutrition science, and would mean that more foods recommended by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans would be eligible to be labeled as “healthy,” the agency stated. This includes nuts and seeds, fish with higher fat content such as salmon, and certain oils and water.

According to the agency, current nutrition science “emphasizes nutrient-dense foods, such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, as key elements of a healthy dietary pattern.” The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020-2025 defines nutrient-dense foods as those that “provide vitamins, minerals, and other health-promoting components and have little added sugars, saturated fat, and sodium.”

The FDA noted that the current “healthy” definition from 1994 would exclude certain nutrient-dense food, such as salmon, due to its high-fat content, but would include other foods that would not be considered by up-to-date nutrition science and dietary guidance as being able to help people maintain healthy dietary practices, such as certain ready-to-eat cereals that may have high levels of added sugars.

Following Dietary Guidelines

To qualify for the “healthy” label on food packaging under the new proposed definition, the food must contain a “certain meaningful amount of food from at least one of the food groups or subgroups (e.g., fruit, vegetable, dairy, etc.)” that are recommended by the dietary guidelines.

It must also not exceed specific limits for certain nutrients, which include saturated fat, sodium, and added sugars. Per the FDA, the threshold for the limits is based on a percent of the daily value (DV) for the nutrient. This varies depending on the food and food group.

For example, the restriction for saturated fats would be limited to 5 percent of the DV for fruit, vegetable, and grain products. But it would be 10 percent for dairy products, game meats, seafood, and eggs; and 20 percent of total fat for oils, oil-based spreads, and oil-based dressings.

The FDA provided a separate example: “a cereal would need to contain ¾ 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 agency also noted that with regard to fats, “current nutrition science supports a view that the type of fat is more relevant than overall total fat intake in risk of chronic diseases.” As such, it did not set a limit on total fats.

The agency also said that it was not setting minimum nutrient levels to have foods meet the criteria for “healthy,” over concerns that doing so “could spur fortification to allow foods that are low in saturated fat, sodium, and added sugars to qualify for the ‘healthy’ claim, despite these foods not contributing to a meaningful amount of a food group (e.g., white bread fortified with calcium).”

“Healthy food can lower our risk for chronic disease. But too many people may not know what constitutes healthy food,” Xavier Becerra, the secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, said in a statement. “FDA’s move will help educate more Americans to improve health outcomes, tackle health disparities and save lives.”

The FDA announcement comes on the same day as the White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition and Health that officials say is aimed at addressing food insecurity and diet-related diseases.

From The Epoch Times