Healthy Eating

What is a healthy food? New definition, confusion, and Nutri-score!

Healthy food

What is healthy food? The old definition will now get changed. The US FDA is re-establishing this definition. So what does healthy imply in the new definition and nutritional guidelines in the USA?

USA and unhealthy eating

The US FDA has put forth certain dietary guidelines for people to follow in 1994. But it looks like not many people are paying heed to it. A recent survey revealed that 75% of Americans do not consume fresh fruits and vegetables or dairy foods. 63% of the surveyed people consume more than the recommended amount of refined sugars daily. 77% eat more saturated fats and 90% take too much of sodium in their diet.

Healthy food
US FDA (Source: FDA)

Due to this, more and more people are getting affected with chronic diseases of heart, blood vessels, metabolic diseases, obesity, diabetes, cancer etc. This is straining the health budget and increasing morbidity and mortality.

What is a healthy food?

The current definition of healthy food was made in 1994. It implies foods that are low in total fat, cholesterol, saturated fats, and sodium. Also, this food should be able to provide at least 10% of the daily requirements of any of these essential ingredients: vitamin A, C, calcium, iron, protein or fiber.

Healthy food
Healthy foods (Source: Prevention)

But the US FDA now plans to update this definition. It will focus on nutrient dense foods in this definition. Hence fresh fruits and vegetables automatically would be included since they are rich in minerals, vitamins, fiber and antioxidants. They provide nutrients and also bring about a strong gut microbiome.

Other healthy foods that would come under this umbrella

By the old definition, nuts, seeds, avocados, fatty fish, and certain oils were not included in healthy food because they had lots of fats and calories in them. But by the new definition, they are nutrient dense and would come in the healthy food category.

Healthy food
Healthy foods (Source: Eat this not that)

Also, water though important and essential was not earlier in the healthy list. But now FDA would include you in this list. Water is a healthy alternative to the fizzy drinks such as carbonated soft drinks and fruit juices with added sugars.

The foods that would be removed from the list include white bread, breakfast cereals, and sugar rich yoghurts. But there exists some confusion in all this. For instance, orange juice has vitamin C in it in large amounts. So should it be in the healthy category or non-healthy one? You can send your comments on it to FDA until 28 December 2022.

Also, read ‘30 different plant foods in a week for health’-dietitians advise!

Countries such as Netherlands, France, Belgium, Switzerland, Germany and Luxembourg use nutri-score in place of healthy definitions.

Healthy food
Nutri-score (Source: Food Navigator)

There is a color coding chart. A is best and dark green in color, and E is worst or red. In between it is B as light green, C as yellow, and D as brown. These are used on food labels as well. So one should consume more of A and B foods and less of D and E. But this system also has received criticisms and is not foolproof. Therefore ultimately nutritional awareness and education is still needed.