The Food and Drug Administration wants to know what you think “healthy” should mean when it’s on a food label.
The FDA started the public process Tuesday for redefining how the label can be used, and opens the matter up for public comment Wednesday.
“Redefining ‘healthy’ is part of an overall plan to provide consumers with information and tools to enable them to easily and quickly make food choices consistent with public health recommendations and to encourage the development of healthier foods by the industry,” according to the FDA.
"As our understanding about nutrition has evolved, we need to make sure the definition for the ‘healthy’ labeling claim stays up to date,” FDA’s Douglas Balentine wrote in a blog post.
“What do consumers expect of foods that carry a ‘healthy’ claim?"
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“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.”
Balentine says the hope is to encourage food manufacturers to come up with better, healthier options.
“As a first step, we are asking for public input on a range of questions about what ‘healthy’ should mean from a nutrition perspective and how consumers understand and use ‘healthy’ food label claims,” Balentine wrote.
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“What do consumers expect of foods that carry a ‘healthy’ claim? What factors and criteria should be used for the new definition of ‘healthy’? We are also planning to hold public forums to get additional input and inform us of what a broad range of stakeholders and consumers think. This may take some time, but we want to get it right.”
The changes were forced, in part, by a fight with the makers of Kind brand snacks. In 2015, the FDA issued a long warning letter to Kind, saying it couldn’t claim its fruit and nut bars were healthy because they contained too much saturated fat and because it described the antioxidant content as healthy despite there being no medical definition to back up the claim.
In turn, the company asked FDA to take another look at what constitutes “healthy” on a food label, saying some of the restrictions are less than logical.
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“The current regulation was established 20 + years ago. Under it foods like nuts, salmon and avocados cannot be labeled as healthy, but items like fat-free pudding and low-fat toaster pastries can,” according to a statement from Kind.
Balentine said the “Nutrition Facts” label, which was also just revamped, sometimes isn’t enough.
“Often, there are also a lot of other terms on food packages such as ‘healthy,’ ‘low in fat,’ or ‘good source’,” he wrote.
“We also know that many just don’t have the time to consider the details of nutrition information on every package they purchase. In fact, most purchase decisions are made quickly, within three to five seconds.”