Healthy Labels, Healthy Food Sales, Healthy People?

SnackWell's Fat-Free Devil's Food Cookie CakesFDA wants to know what it means to call a food product “healthy.” They have a definition that dates back to 1992. Based on that definition, fat-free, high carb foods counted as healthy. Foods with beneficial fats, like avocados and almonds, didn’t meet the definition. FDA Director Nutrition and Food Labeling Douglas Balentine knows that change is overdue:

As our understanding about nutrition has evolved, we need to make sure the definition for the “healthy” labeling claim stays up to date. For instance, the most recent public health recommendations now focus on type of fat, rather than amount of fat. They focus on added sugars, which consumers will see on the new Nutrition Facts label. And they focus on nutrients that consumers aren’t getting enough of, like vitamin D and potassium.

By updating the definition, we hope more companies will use the “healthy” claim as the basis for new product innovation and reformulation, providing consumers with a greater variety of “healthy” choices in the marketplace.

So now it’s official. Avocados and almonds are back in the health club. FDA issued new guidance to provide assurance that such foods can carry health claims without fear of FDA enforcing the now outdated low-fat guidance.

At the same time, the agency is kicking off a long process to decide on the definition of a healthy food, what consumers expect, and what are the “public health benefits of defining the term.”

NYU’s Marion Nestle is skeptical. She says:

Health claims are about marketing; they are not about health.

Foods are foods, not drugs. I don’t see why companies should be allowed to carry any health claims.

Count us skeptical, too. A new wave of no-added-sugar junk food to replace fat-free junk food might well be the result. Such innovations are more likely to produce healthy sales than healthy people.

If you want to throw in your two cents, click here to give FDA a piece of your mind on the subject. The agency is asking for it.

Click here and here to read more on the subject from the FDA. Click here to read more from NPR.

Healthy Banana Leaf, photograph © Scot Nelson / flickr

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October 5, 2016