The Food and Drug Administration's definition of "healthy" is to get a promotion

The Food and Drug Administration’s definition of “healthy” is to get a promotion

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  • The US Food and Drug Administration plans to change its standards on which foods can be classified as “healthy.”
  • The proposal comes amid a shift in nutrition science toward encouraging a diet of balanced food groups, rather than focusing on eating a few specific nutrients.
  • The FDA is also considering whether to move nutrition labels to the front of food packaging.

The definition of “healthy” food is being updated to reflect current nutrition science.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced a proposal last week that would change requirements for manufacturers who want to claim their food or drink product is “healthy.”

The old definition, drawn up in 1994, places strict limits on the amount of total fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, and sodium a food or drink should include. It also requires that products contribute at least 10% of an individual’s daily value of vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium, iron, protein or dietary fiber.

Currently, only about 5% of all packaged foods can be classified as “healthy,” and more than 80% of people in the United States do not eat enough fruits, vegetables, and dairy products, according to the Food and Drug Administration.

Now, the organizers want to focus more on promoting a complete diet.

Under the FDA’s proposal, manufacturers can claim that a food or drink product is “healthy” as long as it contains a significant amount of food from at least one of the food groups or subgroups described in Dietary Guidelines. They include vegetables, fruits, grains, dairy products, and protein foods.

“People eat food, not nutrients,” Chile Maniscalco, MPH, RDNThe nutrition scientist and CEO of Nutrition on Demand told Verywell in an email. “It’s a simpler message that relates more to how individuals and families think about food and beverage choices, and I think it’s more practical to guide long-term health decisions.”

Hope Barkoukis, PhD, RDN, LD, FAND

When we talk about the right nutritional messages about fat, it’s not just about quantity. It’s like your friends in life – it’s not about the number of friends you have, but the quality of those friends. Will they be there for you when you need them?

– Hope Barkoukis, PhD, RDN, LD, FAND

What foods are considered “healthy” then?

Nutritionists now consider some nutrients that were considered unhealthy in the 1990s to be an important part of a balanced diet.

Rather than focusing on the importance of individual nutrients, the new guidelines stress the importance of promoting a “better dietary pattern,” or a more comprehensive diet in general.

This means that some foods that were once considered harmful to health are now seen as an important part of a balanced diet. For example, nutritionists now recognize that the quality of fat is as important to health, if not more important, than the amount of fat a person consumes. Under the new rule, some foods high in fat can now be considered healthy. These foods include salmon, some nuts and seeds, avocado, and olive oil.

“We’ve evolved so that now, when we talk about the right nutritional messages about fat, it’s not just about quantity. It’s like your friends in life — it’s not about the number of friends you have, but the quality of those friends. Will they be there for you when you need them?” Hope Barkoukis, PhD, RDN, LD, FAND, chair of the department of nutrition at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, told Ferriwell. “We’ve made this huge transformation – it’s not exclusively focused on total fat, but on quality.”

In addition, some foods that were previously considered healthy because they contain some key nutrients, may not meet the new requirements.

This is because the proposed rule sets limits on the amount of sugar, saturated fat and sodium that can be included in the food or drink. The sodium limit, for example, will be set at 10% of the daily value per serving, or 230 milligrams per serving.

For example, many cereals contain dietary fiber and supplement with nutrients like vitamin D, but they may also be high in added sugars. Now, to be considered healthy, a serving of grains must contain a minimum amount of whole grains, and not exceed a limit on saturated fat, sodium, or added sugar.

“As a nation, we are competitive and focused on numbers. We have to step away from that to start thinking about food groups. That’s what this new definition of health does,” Barkukis said.

Make health information easier to visualize

The FDA is also studying whether it would be beneficial to include a special symbol on the front of food packaging that is considered healthy. Doing so could be particularly helpful for consumers to identify foods that could be part of a healthy diet, the agency said.

At last week’s National Nutrition Conference, FDA Director of Nutrition and Food Safety Susan Min He said The agency was considering plans to move the nutrition label to the front of food packaging.

The idea is that providing consumers with more information about what is in their food and making that information easy to see when skimming the aisle of a packed grocery store may promote better dietary decisions.

“What we do know is that when we put something on the label, it does two things: One is that it empowers consumers with information. Think about the time we put added sugars on the nutrition label in the last update – and that’s information that none of us had access to, Even a few years ago,” Maine said.

Placing certain nutrients on a food label can also incentivize manufacturers to improve the nutritional value of their products. In 2006, the US Food and Drug Administration began requiring manufacturers to include trans fats on their nutrition labels. As a result, the use of trans fats in packaged foods has been reduced by about 80%, Main said.

The importance of a healthy diet

It has long been known that a healthy diet reduces the risk of developing chronic diseases. Half of people in the United States have one or more preventable, diet-related chronic diseases, such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

These chronic diseases disproportionately affect certain racial and ethnic groups, as well as poor Americans.

Perkokis said it’s important for all people to eat foods of cultural significance to them while following a healthy eating pattern. In many other parts of the world, she said, the importance of certain essential nutrients is not “overstated”, as in the United States. Encouraging better eating habits in general may allow for a healthier, more varied diet.

“Regardless of your background, if you’re here in the United States and you eat local foods, your typical cultural choices could easily fit those criteria,” Barkookis said.

The FDA update is part of a broader push by the federal government to reduce health disparities and the prevalence of chronic disease. As part of the Nutrition Summit, President Joe Biden Announce plans To improve access to natural spaces, enhance physical education in schools, expand programs to treat food as medicine, and invest in climate and public health.

What does this mean for you

Nutritionists largely agree that eating a diet full of fruits and vegetables, reducing sugar and salt intake, and focusing on whole foods instead of ultra-processed foods can lead to better health outcomes. You can refer to nutritional guidelines, Updated every five years, for more information on building a balanced diet.

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