What does healthy mean? Tell FDA

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Last week, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced they want to redefine what the “healthy” claim on food packages means. Healthy is an official term that food manufacturers are allowed to put on a processed food if it meets certain FDA nutrient requirements.

The FDA rethinking comes after a manufacturer objected that their product could not be labeled healthy because it isn’t low fat – it contains whole nuts. They won their case, citing US Dietary Guidelines that say type of fat has more relevance to health than the amount of fat in a single food. High fat foods like nuts and avocados are part of overall healthy and cancer-protective diets, like the Mediterranean diet.

It’s important to know that these claims are designed for processed foods or food products, as a marketing tool – not for whole foods like vegetables, fruit, beans and whole grains like brown rice and barley. Marian Nestle explained this in her Food Politics blog last week.

Of course, healthy is really about your whole diet. No one food makes a diet healthy – or unhealthy. AICR’s evidence-based recommendations lay out what a healthy, cancer-protective diet is. It’s focused on vegetables, beans, fruit and whole grains – colorful, crunchy, fiber-filled plant foods. These can be fresh or minimally processed (such as frozen or canned).

Yet there are differences between food products, like breads or ready to eat cereals, for example. Do they primarily contain whole or lightly processed ingredients like whole grains, nuts and seeds, or are they loaded with refined grains, added sugar or saturated fats? This is where a clearly labeled food product that is truly health-promoting could be helpful for consumers.

The question FDA has for you: How would a healthy label help you make your food choices? What criteria should the FDA set for a healthy label?

Here’s how you can let the FDA know what you think – go to their blog or just go to their website and offer a comment.



Author: Alice RD

Alice G. Bender, MS, RDN, is the Director of Nutrition Programs at AICR. She helps put the science of cancer prevention into action by providing tips and tools to choose nutritious and delicious foods. Alice has guided thousands of individuals to healthier lives through diet changes and choices.

One thought on “What does healthy mean? Tell FDA”

  1. Perhaps the relative concentrations of saturated vs mono & poly unsaturated should be utilized to determine whether a food product can be allowed to be labeled “healthy”? This approach would encourage consumers to read such food labels more carefully, and ignore the advertised claim of low fat; which is meaningless unless one considers the specific proportions of the different fats as well as their DVs.

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