By Brenda Goodman, CNN
The FDA is proposing changes to the nutritional standards that foods must meet before they can carry a “healthy” label on their packaging.
The proposal comes as the White House held its conference on hunger, nutrition and health and released a new national strategy to end hunger and improve nutrition and physical activity.
About 5% of foods are rated as healthy, which is a regulated claim. Foods that claim have limits on individual nutrients such as fat, saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium, and should contain small amounts of vitamins A and C, calcium, iron, protein and dietary fiber.
The FDA says that since this claim was first defined in 1994, nutritional and nutritional sciences have changed, rendering the term obsolete.
For example, some cereals that are high in added sugars still meet the definition of “healthy,” but salmon, which is high in beneficial polyunsaturated fats, does not.
The proposed criteria change how the term “healthy” is defined. Rather than just counting individual nutrients, health claims will also take into account the variety of nutrients found in foods, as well as their nutrient density.
To be labeled with a “healthy” claim, products will need:
- contain a specific, meaningful amount of food from at least one of the food groups or subgroups — such as fruits, vegetables, or dairy — that is recommended Dietary Guidelines.
- Stick to certain limits for certain nutrients, such as saturated fats, sodium, and added sugars. The threshold is based on a percentage of the daily value of the nutrient and varies for different food and food groups. The upper limit for sodium, for example, is 10% of the daily value.
For example, cereals should contain three-quarters of an ounce of whole grains and no more than 1 gram of saturated fat, 230 milligrams of sodium and 2.5 grams of added sugars, the Food and Drug Administration says.
The FDA says that foods high in fat, such as some oils, nuts and seeds, will also be newly eligible for the health claim.
US Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra said in new version. “Healthy food can reduce chronic disease risk. But many people may not know what constitutes healthy food. The FDA’s move will help educate more Americans to improve health outcomes, address health disparities, and save lives.”
Critics say the proposal will have limited impact
Nutrition advocates say the proposed rule has some strengths but is nowhere near enough to encourage better food choices.
“The potential impact as we’re seeing it is fairly limited,” said Eva Grintal, senior science policy assistant at the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest.
Greenthal says the number of food products that currently carry the voluntary “health” claim is small and that making standards more stringent could cause that percentage to shrink further.
She points out that where people really struggle is understanding when food is not nutritious. The “healthy” claim doesn’t help with that.
Instead, what the Center for Science in the Public Interest would like to see are labels on the front of food packaging like those used in Mexico and the UK that alert consumers when foods are high in salt, sugars or saturated fats.
Sometimes these warnings look like traffic lights or black stop lights.
“There is a significant amount of empirical research that instead favors nutrient warnings in that they have a significant impact on consumer choices and improve the overall health of foods chosen when grocery shopping,” Grinthal said.
Grinthal says her group will provide comments on the proposed rule to express its concerns.
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