FDA Proposes New Rules For Which Foods Can Be Called ‘Healthy’

The Food and Drug Administration wants to update its rules for which foods can be branded “healthy.”

The proposed label rule aims, in part, to address a question as old as medicine: What does it mean for a food to be healthy? It would update the “healthy” label guidelines from 1994 to match up-to-date nutrition research — a notoriously messy and heavily debated field. Now, food makers can call their products “healthy” if they keep sodium, sugar, and other content below certain levels, and if they contain a “meaningful” amount of food from at least one of the food groups like fruits, vegetables, or dairy.

The change is a major win for certain food makers, including the company behind KIND bars, that had long been pushing the agency to update its label policies. KIND first filed a petition pushing the FDA to update its “healthy” label seven years ago, arguing that the previous regulations allowed some companies to tout specific nutrients in sugary cereals and sodium-flooded products that could have misled the public into believing those foods were healthy.

“Dressing up empty calorie products by emphasizing a singular nutrient, like protein or fiber, versus the overall quality of the food is unfair to consumers,” said Daniel Lubetzky, KIND founder and CEO, in a press release.

Of particular note: The new “healthy” requirements differentiate far more readily between good fats and not-so-good fats. The fats found in nuts and seeds, omega-3-rich fish such as salmon and herring, and plant-based oils such as olive, would make them eligible for a “healthy” claim on food packaging. Eating foods with monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats in moderation has been linked to a slew of benefits: helping reduce inflammation and bad cholesterol, boosting good cholesterol, and lowering the risks of heart disease and obesity.

The proposed FDA change came on the same day as the White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health. It was the first such conference since 1969, when it led to a huge expansion of the federal food stamps program, and gave rise to the Women, Infants and Children program.

While Wednesday’s event was not quite so groundbreaking, it stressed the power of partnerships to achieve President Biden’s goal to end hunger and increase healthy eating habits and physical activity by 2030. Biden announced a total private-sector investment of $8 billion from more than 100 nonprofits and companies — from humanitarian food relief nonprofit World Central Kitchen to franchises like Burger King — towards these goals.

“People need to know what they should be eating. … The Food and Drug Administration is already using this authority around labeling,” Biden said at the conference. “So you can figure out which food is actually good for you and what isn’t good for you. And that only is going to increase with informing people.”


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