See What "Healthy" Food Means and What's next from the FDA

You may have heard reports about the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) re-evaluating the definition of the term “healthy” for food labeling.

We thought it might be helpful to review some information about nutrition and what this news means to you and your family as you choose foods for your meals and snacks.

To help you understand the food and nutrition industry’s current definition of “healthy,” we invite you to look into this helpful professional resource to assist you in getting the most out of your nutritional well-being. The recently updated Dietary Guidelines are also a great resource to find some of the most up-to-date recommendations for good nutrition.

What’s Next?

The announcement of the re-evaluation for what constitutes “healthy” is only the first step of a long process that could take a year or two. The FDA will seek input from the public and food manufactures as an updated definition of “healthy” is developed. The end goal will be to help people make good informed food choices.

We’ve been learning a lot about nutrition since the labeling guidelines were introduced by an act of Congress in 1990. We’re finding that healthy fats, such as those found in nuts, can be part of a healthy diet, thanks to the work healthy fats do in helping to bolster cardiovascular and mental health.

To be considered “healthy” under existing label rules, foods normally have had to be very low in fat. That means that a lot of foods that include nuts don’t qualify for the “healthy” label. (That said, it’s important to note that while nuts do have good fats, they’re also calorie dense, so you should limit portion sizes to avoid getting too much of a good thing.)

The same fat-limit labeling rules apply to foods like olives, salmon and avocados. We know they have good fats and are part of a healthful diet, but under current labeling guidelines, they can’t be labeled as “healthy.”

The re-evaluation should be helpful in clarifying the healthfulness of foods such as granola bars, frozen yogurt, fruit juices and smoothies. However, even though they have healthy components, if they’re high in sugar, that may negate their other healthful ingredients.

What to Watch for Now

In the meantime, consumers should become familiar with the information on current nutrition labels.

Watch for the serving sizes. Sometimes the amount of calories, fat, sodium and other components listed on the nutrition label are for a relatively modest portion size. Of course if you eat more, the numbers all go up.

Take a look at the ingredients. See if you know what the ingredients are and if you can pronounce them. If you notice that the first five ingredients are things you can’t pronounce, you may want to reconsider providing this item to your family.

Recent decisions by the FDA allow food manufacturers to say their foods are “healthy and tasty” if the claim reflects the company’s food philosophy. However, the claims cannot be part of the nutrition information. So learn to separate food marketing from nutrition information.

Knowledge Is Nutrition Power

To better understand nutrition and its importance for your family, community classes are often available on diet and nutrition. A registered dietitian can answer any questions you have about nutrition and your good health! Just ask!

Meet the Author

Krysta Butkus, MS RD CD is a Clinical Dietitian at Aurora Sinai Medical Center in Milwaukee, WI.

Read more posts from this author

The information presented in this site is intended for general information and educational purposes. It is not intended to replace the advice of your own physician. Contact your physician if you believe you have a health problem.

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