Definition of the term healthy

When new research reveals new findings, it changes the nutritional guidelines too. Based on the new light shed on nutrition from research, the USA FDA plans to make a change in the definition of the term healthy on packaged foods.

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Definition of the term healthy on packaged foods

It was way back in 1994 that US FDA had defined the term healthy for packaged foods sold in the USA. This labeling on packages of foods was voluntary. But the food had to meet certain criteria before the manufacturer can put the term healthy on its label.

The present definition of this term has certain set permitted limits for the amount of total fat, saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium in it. Moreover in order to qualify to use this term on the label the foods must have at least 10% of the Daily Value (DV) for at least one of the following nutrients, namely, vitamin A, vitamin C, iron, calcium, protein and fiber.

Definition of the term healthy
US FDA (Source: FDA)

The FDA wants to reduce the burden of chronic diseases and also wants to advance health equity. It wants people to find it easy to make healthier food choices.

The proposed new rule

On 28 September 2022, the US FDA announced its proposed new rule to update the claim of the term healthy on labels. These changes are in line with the present nutrition science, dietary guidance of federal government with stress on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025. These guidelines emphasize on food groups and healthy dietary patterns and also on type of fats in the food.

Definition of the term healthy
Definition of the term healthy set to change for food packages in the USA (Source: FDA)

Dietitian Dana Ellis Hunnes from UCLA Fielding school of public health spoke to Health and justified the change in definition. She said:

“Too many people in the U.S. eat a diet that is low in whole grains, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and legumes; and high in saturated fats, processed grains, sugar, and sodium,”

“The purpose of this redefining the word ‘healthy’ for the purposes of packaging is to make it easier for the consumer to choose foods that are overall of higher nutrition quality.”

New definition criteria

The new criteria lays down stricter limits on some nutrients but reduces the focus on others. In order to be able to use the term healthy on its label, the food should have a significant amount of atleast one of the following food groups: fruits, vegetables, whole grains, dairy etc. There should be limited amounts of sugar or sodium in it. The limits set are 2.5 grams and 230 mg respectively.

Definition of the term healthy
Now nurs, seeds, fish and avocados will come under healthy food rightfully (Source: Prevention)

Moreover, the fats should be of the healthy type. The amount of fats does not matter. Due to this change in criteria, foods with healthy fats in them such as fish, nuts, seeds, and avocados come under the healthy term now. Earlier they were excluded despite being healthy.

By this definition, foods like white bread, sweetened yoghurt and certain cereals were put as healthy. They are now out of the definition of healthy.

Also, read Bread has high carb content! Is eating it everyday healthy?

For a cereal to qualify as healthy, it should have three-quarters of an ounce of grain in whole form and no more than 1 gram of saturated fats. Additionally, it should have less than 2.5 grams of sugars and 230 mg of sodium.

This is a proposal. People can provide their feedback on it until 28 December 2022.