The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is redefining what the word "healthy" truly means when it comes to food. And it wants you to participate.
The FDA has announced it will soon reevaluate the criteria by which food manufacturers are allowed to place a “healthy” label onto their products. As part of this process, the FDA has asked people to submit comments online or via mail about the changes they’d like to see and what they themselves consider to be healthy. The proposed redefinition comes on the heels of sweeping changes the FDA will soon make to nutritional fact labels.
“The marketplace is teeming with rows and rows of foods — some new and some not; some healthier than others,” said Dr. Douglas Balentine, director of the Office of Nutrition and Food Labeling at the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, in a statement released Tuesday. “Even for the well informed, choosing what to buy is challenging, especially if you want to choose a healthy diet for you and your families.”
Last year, the FDA engaged in a scuffle with food company Kind Snacks, after the company claimed it unfairly maligned its line of fruit-and-nut bars as unhealthy. The agency sent out a warning letter to the company for its use of a “healthy” label on some of its products. Under the current rules, the bars contained too much saturated fat to be considered healthy. Following the letter, the company began a campaign to pressure the FDA into formally updating their labeling process. In May of this year, the FDA relented and allowed the company to keep the label, while admitting that a reevaluation of their process should be a priority.
“We’re encouraged by the speed of progress within the FDA and see this as a notable milestone in our country’s journey to redefine healthy,” Kind CEO Daniel Lubetzky told Buzzfeed News in response to the FDA’s announcement Tuesday.
As can be seen with the new nutritional fact labels, there’s been a substantial drift in what nutrition scientists consider important to a healthy diet in recent decades. For example, Balentine noted that while eating too many fats at all was once considered universally unhealthy, the labels will now focus more specifically on the type of fat being consumed rather than the amount. They will also specifically note the amount of added sugars found in a product, more loudly emphasize its total calories, and adjust the serving size to better fit how people traditionally eat and drink a product.
“While we are working on the ‘healthy’ claim, we also will begin evaluating other label claims to determine how they might be modernized,” said Balentine. That presumably includes the “natural” label affixed to many products, one that some have criticized as being a poor and misleading indicator of a food’s nutritional value. For the time being, though, foods will be able to keep any labels they already have.
Added Balentine, “We want to give consumers the best tools and information about the foods they choose, with the goal of improving public health.”
The comment period will officially begin Wednesday. Information on how to contact the FDA can be seen here.