A New Definition from the FDA Could Make Finding “Healthy” Food in the Grocery Store Much Easier

published Sep 29, 2022
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Someone placing fruit in refrigerator.
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We’ve all heard the word “healthy,” but what does it actually mean? The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has their own definition, and it’s in the process of being updated to reflect current nutrition science. The updated criteria will determine which foods can be labeled as “healthy” on their product packaging.

“This 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,” a press release reads. The release notes that more than 80 percent of people in the United States don’t eat enough vegetables, fruit, and dairy, with most people consuming too much added sugars, saturated fat, and sodium. “The proposed rule is part of the agency’s ongoing commitment to helping consumers improve nutrition and dietary patterns to help reduce the burden of chronic disease and advance health equity.”

Under the proposed new definition, foods labeled as “healthy” on their packaging would have to contain a meaningful amount of food from at least one food group or subgroup recommended by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. These foods will also have a limited amount of nutrients like saturated fat, sodium, and added sugar.

The press release gives a specific example for cereal, which would need to contain 3/4 ounces of whole grains and no more than 1 gram of saturated fat, 230 milligrams of sodium, and 2.5 grams of added sugars in order to fall under the new “healthy” label. The proposed rule would also mean that foods like nuts and seeds, salmon, and certain oils could be labeled as healthy. Their naturally occurring fat content kept them from bearing the healthy label under previous definitions.

“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,” FDA Commissioner, Robert M. Califf, M.D., said. “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.”

As of the writing of this story, the FDA’s new definition of “healthy” is still in the proposal stage. It’s under a comment period for the next 90 days, and people can submit comments on the many nuances that exist in the guidelines. It’s over 100 pages long, and we look forward to checking out the TL;DR version once everything is said and done.