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| 1 minute read

Are FDA's new guidelines on what foods can be labeled "healthy" an exercise in futility?

We want to eat healthy, right? And eating healthy requires us to consume healthy foods. But where do we draw the line between foods that are legitimately "healthy" and those that are not? The FDA's new proposed rules, announced Wednesday, are trying to provide us with an answer. Under the proposal, products can be labeled "healthy" if they contain a meaningful amount of food from at least one of the food groups or subgroups (such as fruit, vegetable or dairy) recommended by the dietary guidelines. They must also adhere to specific limits for certain nutrients, such as saturated fat, sodium and added sugars.

Sounds great, right? But what constitutes “healthy” food is a thorny topic among nutrition experts. Would foods high in what many nutrition scientists call “good fats,” such as those that contain almonds or avocados, be deemed “unhealthy,” whereas artificially sweetened fruit snacks or reduced-fat sugary yogurts might be considered “healthy”? “In reality, FDA’s proposed rule will need to undergo significant review and revision to ensure it does not place the politics of food above science and fact,” said Sean McBride, founder of DSM Strategic Communications and former executive at the Grocery Manufacturers Association. “The details are critical because the final rule goes well beyond a simple definition by creating a de facto nutrition profile regulatory scheme that will dictate how food can be made for decades to come.” 

The FDA's proposal is far from final and likely to be met with some resistance from food manufacturers and others who are attempting to capitalize on consumer desire to eat healthier. In my opinion, whatever rule FDA lands on will be met with significant skepticism and criticism. I'm getting soup and a sandwich from Panera tonight. You tell me, will I be eating "healthy"?

The labels are aimed at helping consumers more easily navigate nutrition labels and make better choices at the grocery store. The proposed rule would align the definition of the “healthy” claim with current nutrition science, the updated Nutrition Facts label and the current Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the FDA said.


agribusiness, food and beverage, fda, healthy