If a box of sugary breakfast cereal can be labeled ‘healthy’ while nutrient-dense foods like nuts, avocados and salmon can’t, there’s an issue with how we label food. So, what is this issue exactly?
Last March, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) notified KIND Bars that it was violating label regulations. As it turns out, for a product to be labeled “healthy,” it can only contain 1 gram or less of saturated fat. After reviewing the nutrition breakdown, four KIND bars didn’t make the cut, likely because of the nut and coconut content.
KIND bars responded by filing a citizen petition on December 1. It urged the FDA to update their labeling policies so that it promotes a healthy eating pattern instead of singling out specific nutrients like fat. This drew media attention to the FDA’s 20-plus-year-old food labeling regulations, which were written at a time where Americans were urged to eat less fat.
Since then, the FDA revisited its policies and asked the public to help redefine what “healthy” really means. The hope is that having a set definition for what “healthy” means on packaged foods can:
- Enable consumers like you and me to make smarter, quicker food choices, and
- Guide food companies to create healthier products
As a result of this revision, the FDA published an immediately effective guidance for the use of “healthy” on food labels. Their new guidance outlined the department’s focus towards the type of fat eaten instead of the total amount of fat eaten. Plus, they highlighted nutrients of public health concern, namely potassium and vitamin D.
So, what’s the new definition for “healthy”?
To date, foods can be labeled “healthy” if each standard serving is:
- Not low in total fat, but made of predominantly mono- and polyunsaturated fats or
- Contain at least 10% of your Daily Value for potassium or vitamin D.
And with that, KIND bars were able to label their products as “healthy” once again. Everyone lived happily ever after, or did they? KIND bars maintain that more work needs to be done. In their blog post, they promised to continue being a part of the food policy conversation so consumers can have clear, consistent information to guide them in the grocery store.
Many of us believe nutritional science is always evolving, and it’s important to have our policies updated to reflect the most recent and recognized research. Others may believe it’s ludicrous to define what “healthy” means to begin with.
Got an opinion? Send it over to the FDA. Between now and January 26, 2017 they will be taking your comments to develop a proposed rule that redefines the term “healthy” on food labels.