FDA Will Review What 'Healthy' Means

Salmon, avocados and almonds are “healthy” for you, right? And packaged foods with scads of sugar are not, correct? Well, that’s not what the current Food and Drug Administration guidelines on food-label claims would indicate, which is why the agency is reevaluating “the regulations concerning nutrition content claims, generally, including the term ‘healthy,’” it revealed yesterday.

“Current regulations, crafted more than 20 years ago during the advent of low-fat diets, allow products like fat-free pudding cups and sugary cereal to be labeled as healthy, but not whole foods such as nuts, avocados and salmon, which have come to be considered sources of nutritious fats,” writes Hadley Malcolm for USA Today. “The government's current MyPlate guidelines recommend including nuts, seeds and fish as part of a balanced diet — making decades-old nutrition labeling guidelines confusing.”



“When the term ‘healthy’ was first officially defined in 1994, low fat content was the main focus of health professionals. Sugar wasn’t on the FDA’s, or most nutritionists’, radar,” writes Annie Gasparro for the Wall Street Journal.

“Kellogg Co. doesn’t generally market its Frosted Flakes or low-fat Pop-Tarts as ‘healthy,’ but under the current guidelines, it could. While the foods are high in sugar, they meet all the criteria, from low fat to fortified with vitamins. And fat-free pudding cups can be marketed as healthy, but avocados couldn’t because they have too much fat, according to today’s rules.”

NPR’s Allison Aubrey points out that “millions of Americans clung to the advice that low fat was best. During the 1990s, an era of fat-free mania, Americans were making a habit of munching on sugar-rich, refined-grain products such as Snackwells.”

The impetus for the FDA’s decision to review its regulations was a protest from a small New York-based snack bar company that’s on a mission to build bridges between people in the process of staying solvent.

“In April 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,” recounts Maggie Fox on Today.com.

“KIND then sought a reevaluation of the term's definition from the FDA, noting the fat in its bars comes from nuts. It noted the FDA's rules prevent avocados and salmon from being labeled healthy, while allowing the term for fat-free puddings and sugary cereals.”

In December 2015, it filed a Citizen’s Petition urging the FDA “to align food labeling regulations with current nutrition science and federal dietary guidelines [to] help people better identify the types of foods recommended as part of a healthy diet,” as recounted in a company blog post.

“After some back-and-forth on the matter, the FDA told KIND in an email last month that it did not object to the company's use of the term ‘healthy and tasty’ on its bar wrappers. The FDA said it is allowing use of the phrase framed as a ‘corporate philosophy,’ rather than as a nutrient content claim,” the AP reports. “KIND satisfactorily addressed the violations contained in the warning letter,” the FDA said Tuesday.

“Last month, the House of Representatives also said in a report accompanying its agriculture appropriations bill that it expects the FDA to amend its ‘healthy’ claim regulation to be based on ‘significant scientific agreement,’” according to the AP.

But if you think this is going to happen overnight, you haven’t been paying attention to the process in D.C. 

“Any change in the regulation around the term could take years. The FDA's final rule on gluten-free labeling, for instance, took more than six years to complete,” CBS News reminds us in a piece accompanied by an interview with KIND founder and CEO Daniel Lubetzky.

Lubetzky’s book, Do the KIND Thing “is a stellar example that a business can be both highly successful, and advance a culture of decency and generosity,” according to a blurb by Arianna Huffington. 

“Daniel Lubetzky has written the playbook for anyone with a passion and a vision for leveraging business as a tool for social change,” says Pamela Hartigan, director, Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship, Saïd Business School, University of Oxford, in another, adding that his “honest and at times hilarious descriptions of his many failures will serve all aspiring entrepreneurs.”

This victory may serve a whole lot of consumers — and brands in tune with the times — as well.

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