healthy food

The US wants to redefine what counts as healthy food

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is redefining “healthy” food.

The FDA on September 28 released the result of six years of consultations and revision: proposed new guidelines for assessing what constitutes “healthy” food. In short, something that is produced, advertised, or sold as “healthy” will now need to have the equivalent of one serving (or “meaningful amount”) of fruits, vegetables, grains, dairy, or protein foods as indicated in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

Raw, whole fruits and vegetables automatically qualify to bear the claim. However, there is a limit on the amount of less beneficial nutrients — including added sugars, sodium, and saturated fats — that a food item with the claim can contain. Different prepared products will fit onto a scale that has a nutrient requirement and percentage limits for the recommended daily intakes of these additives. The threshold for the limits is based on a percent of the Daily Value for the nutrient and varies depending on the food and food group.

The intention is to provide consumers with confidence and peace of mind that they are indeed purchasing a food item that is unequivocally and undoubtedly genuinely good for them, ultimately improving people’s diet and reducing the incidence of food-related illness and disease.

Restaurant Dive notes that the redefinition is the latest step on the journey of evaluating what “healthy” truly means for food. When the word was first given a regulated definition in the U.S. in 1994, it focused heavily on fat content. Under that old definition, naturally occurring fat content prevented the likes of nuts, salmon, and avocado from bearing the “healthy” label. 

Examples of foods that are currently ineligible to bear the “healthy” claim based on the existing regulatory definition but that would qualify under the new proposed definition are water, avocados, nuts, seeds, higher-fat fish such as salmon, and certain oils. Conversely, products that currently qualify as “healthy” that would not under the proposed definition include white bread, highly sweetened yogurt, and highly sweetened cereal.

More than four in five people in the U.S. aren’t eating enough vegetables, fruit, and dairy, says the FDA, while most consume too much added sugar, saturated fat, and sodium. The administration says that its proposed rule would align the definition of the “healthy” claim with current nutrition science, the updated Nutrition Facts label, and the current Dietary Guidelines for Americans