The “Healthy” Claim is Up for a Makeover

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Recently, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advised more appropriate criteria for using the term “healthy” on food labels. The new ruling would line up with the “healthy” claim definition based on current nutrition science, the revised nutrition facts label, and the most recent version of the U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans. After participating in the White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health, the FDA is releasing a related nutrition strategy to end hunger, improve nutrition and exercise, cut the risk of diet-related diseases, and close gaps in health disparity by 2030. According to FDA Commissioner Robert M. Califf, M.D., “Diet-related chronic diseases, such as cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes, are the leading causes of death and disability in the U.S. and disproportionately impact racial and ethnic minority groups.”

The new ruling would revise the “healthy” claim definition to more accurately account for how nutrients in various foods work harmoniously to develop nutritious dietary patterns. Foods such as nuts, seeds, certain oils, water, and fatty fish (like salmon) would be allowed to use the claim “healthy” on their labels. These foods are a part of the U.S. Dietary Guidelines.

The proposed rule is just in time. Over 80% of individuals in the U.S. don’t eat the recommended number of servings of fruit, vegetables, and dairy products. On top of that, the majority consume excess added sugars, saturated fat, and sodium. “Nutrition is key to improving our nation’s health,” said U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra. “Healthy food can lower our risk for chronic disease, but too many people may not know what constitutes healthy food. The FDA’s move will help educate more Americans to improve health outcomes, tackle health disparities, and save lives.”

According to the proposed definition, in order to be labeled with the “healthy” claim on food packaging, the products would need to contain a certain amount of food from at least one of the food groups or subgroups (e.g., fruit, vegetable, dairy, etc.) recommended by the dietary guidelines.  They would also need to adhere to specific limits for certain nutrients: saturated fat, sodium, and added sugars. The threshold for the limits is based on a percent of the Daily Value (DV) for the nutrient and varies depending on the food and food group.  For example, the limit for sodium is 10% of the DV per serving (230 mg per serving). Cereal would need to contain at least three-fourths ounces of whole grains with no more than one gram of saturated fat, 230 mg of sodium, and two and a half grams of added sugars.

Not only can this renewed definition empower consumers by arming them with information to choose healthier diets and initiate healthy eating habits early, it may also lead to a healthier food supply. Product manufacturers may choose to improve or create products to align with the updated definition. Potential examples could include using more whole grains, increasing vegetables in food products, and reducing sodium in processed, packaged, and prepared foods A symbol could be used on food labels to identify when products meet the “healthy claim”. The FDA recognizes that consumers are busy and are looking for ways to make finding healthier products easier.

According to Susan Mayne, Ph.D., Director of the FDA Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, “Healthy eating patterns are associated with improved health, yet most people’s eating patterns do not align with current dietary recommendations. In addition to today’s action, we continue to advance a number of FDA initiatives and explore new ways to coordinate, leverage, and amplify important work going on across the nutrition ecosystem to help improve people’s diets and make a profound impact on the health of current and future generations.”

The Upcoming Itinerary Includes:

  • Developing a front-of-package (FOP) labeling system to quickly and more easily communicate nutrition information to empower consumers to make healthy decisions.
  • Making nutrition information easily available when grocery shopping online.
  • Facilitating the lowering of sodium content of food in the food supply chain, and issuing revised, lower voluntary sodium reduction targets for the industry.
  • Holding a public meeting regarding future steps the federal government could take to facilitate lowering added sugar consumption.
  • Releasing additional education and outreach efforts to ensure that parents and caregivers are aware of the latest recommendations for healthy eating in young children and for taking steps to reduce exposure to toxic elements in food.

Health Experts Can Help Their Clients Through:

  • Conducting label reading activities
  • Touring grocery stores or making trips to a farmer’s market
  • Dispelling myths about dietary fats and fad diets
  • Providing cooking demos
  • Offering simple recipes
  • Educating parents and caregivers about child nutrition
  • Discouraging the use of food as a reward

By Lisa Andrews, MEd, RD, LD

Reference:

Califf, R. M. (2022). Food Labeling: Nutrient Content Claims; Definition of Term “Healthy” A Proposed Rule by the Food and Drug AdministrationRobert. Federal Register . https://doi.org/2022-20975

 

 

 

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