The Rotten FDA Definition of "Healthy" Foods Is Finally Thrown Away

The Rotten FDA Definition of “Healthy” Foods Is Finally Thrown Away

The Rotten FDA Definition of Foods

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Wednesday proposed a long-awaited revision to the definition of “healthy” on food packaging – finally removing mind-boggling 1990s criteria that made foods such as nuts, salmon, avocados, olive oil, and even water not eligible for the label.

The new definition is not immune to criticism, and Americans are likely to still face uncertainty about healthy food choices as they walk through grocery store aisles. But the proposed update, which coincides with this week’s White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health and a national strategy to improve U.S. nutrition and reduce hunger, is a marked improvement.

Under current criteria, established in 1994, the FDA allows food manufacturers to label their products as “healthy” based on myopic maximums and minimums of specific nutrients. This means that “healthy” foods have universal maximums for saturated fat, total fat, cholesterol, and sodium, and must also provide at least 10% of the Daily Value for one or more of the following nutrients: vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium, iron, protein and fibre.

Under this rule, foods high in added sugars, such as low-fat yogurts or sugary breakfast cereals aimed at children, are eligible for a “healthy” label because they meet the other criteria. The same goes for some nutritionally questionable white breads. Yet whole foods such as avocados or currently recommended meats such as salmon are ineligible due to their fat content, which goes against the current and proven healthiness of dairy foods. plants. And even plain water or plain sparkling water can’t be labeled “healthy.”

New rule

The absurdity of this definition made headlines in 2015 when the FDA sent a warning letter to the maker of Kind bars saying it could not use the term “healthy” on its nut-based bars because they contained too much saturated fat. Nuts and seeds alone are generally not eligible for the “healthy” label under the current rule. The company pushed back, and in 2016 the FDA reversed course, saying it planned to update the definition, which brings us to the proposed update this week.

Under the FDA’s proposed rule — which could still change — the agency is now taking a more holistic approach to rating foods, saying foods could be labeled healthy if they:

  • Contain some significant amount of foods from at least one of the food groups or subgroups (eg fruits, vegetables, dairy products, etc.) recommended by the Dietary Guidelines.
  • Stick to specific limits for certain nutrients, such as saturated fat, sodium, and added sugars.

It is important to note that for this last point, the nutrient limit thresholds would vary depending on the type of food or food group a product contains – i.e. a product made from Olive oil has a higher saturated fat limit than vegetable products, which have a lower added sugar content than grain-based foods. The FDA has provided a helpful table here of proposed limits for different food groups.

The FDA also gave an example for a cereal that would meet the new “healthy” definition: it “should contain ¾ ounces of whole grains and contain no more than 1 gram of saturated fat, 230 milligrams of sodium, and 2.5 grams added sugars.”

The FDA hopes the change will help consumers choose better foods at the grocery store and prompt food manufacturers to adapt their products to the new definition.

The review is “an important step towards achieving a number of nutrition-related priorities, which include empowering consumers with information to choose healthier diets and establishing healthy eating habits early.” , FDA Commissioner Robert Califf said in a statement. “It can also translate to a healthier food supply.”

Change needed

These nutrition-related goals are more important than ever. On Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported data showing that the number of states with a high rate of adult obesity, defined as 35% of adults or more, has more than doubled since 2018. Nineteen States and two territories now have high rate rates. Childhood obesity has also increased amid the pandemic. According to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association last year, the percentage of children aged 5 to 11 who were “overweight” or “obese” fell from 36.2% in the year before the pandemic at 45.7% in January 2021.

Obesity at any age can lead to serious health issues, such as high blood pressure, sleep apnea, heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, certain cancers, serious consequences of COVID -19 and poor mental health. The top three causes of death in 2020 were heart disease, cancer and COVID-19.

Of course, obesity is a complex, multifactorial health problem, and diet is only one part of it. But, there’s plenty of data to suggest that people in the United States don’t eat well and that the quintessential American diet is fueling chronic health problems. The FDA notes that 75% of Americans eat a diet low in fruits, vegetables and dairy products; 77% consume too much saturated fat; 63% eat too many added sugars; and a whopping 90 percent exceed the limit for sodium.

The FDA’s proposed new definition of “healthy” certainly won’t solve these problems all at once. Some health advocates and experts say it may have minimal effects, and that package labeling that warns against unhealthy content – with things like red light symbols – can be more effective than labeling “healthy” foods. But, the update is a marked improvement over the current definition of “healthy”, which is not aligned with evidence-based dietary recommendations.

In a comment to The Washington Post, Kind CEO Russell Stokes said the company is celebrating the proposed update. “A rule that reflects current nutritional science and dietary guidelines for Americans is a victory for public health — and it’s a victory for all of us.”

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