There are two standards currently in place to define a food as “healthy.” The first is, if a product isn’t low-fat, it should have a fat profile makeup of mostly monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. The guidelines say this is because they no longer want consumers to be afraid of heart-healthy fats as nutritional science has shown many benefits to eating good fats.
The other standard is that a food should contain 10 percent or more of the daily value for either Vitamin D or potassium, as the FDA noted they are no longer worried about Americans’ intake of Vitamin A or C. The guidelines said the agency is still concerned about calcium and iron intakes. Of course, this leaves out a lot of nutritional needs, and simply following these guidelines would not ensure that you are getting enough other essential nutrients, to say nothing of gut health, fiber intake, sodium, and more.
In a world of constantly conflicting nutrition science from a variety of interested parties and stakeholders, defining a generic “healthy” will not be an easy feat. With the rise in popularity of both the animal protein-heavy keto diet and plant-based diets, the agency has a large undertaking in deciding how to guide consumers to find truly healthy foods. Even still, some health food companies are hoping it will be a great next step in consumer nutrition education.
“We have been thinking about this issue since 2015 when we filed a petition asking FDA to revisit how the term “healthy” is defined and used on food labels,” says Stephanie Perruzza, registered dietitian and health and wellness expert at KIND, in an email conversation with Cooking Light.
Perruzza says the company’s priority is to empower consumers to make informed eating decisions. According to Perruza KIND was the first snack food company to reveal the amount of added sugars in their foods before it was required by the FDA. A universal “healthy” label could reward companies trying to assist consumers in eating healthier and police other food companies who are less health-conscious.
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“We recognize that food labels don’t always [empower the consumer], which is why a universal label could be a useful tool in helping more people understand what foods contribute to a healthy diet and which don’t,” Perruzza says. “We know the FDA has been hard at work with consumers’ best intentions in mind and we’re eager to see what they come up with.”
Until the FDA shares their new definition with us, Brierley Horton MS RD, says there are two keys to finding a healthy product at the grocery store consumers should always watch out for.
“Start first with portion size because that will dictate if the number below is reasonable or not,” Horton said. “In other words, will you eat three servings, and even if the nutrition numbers look healthy, do they still seem healthy multiplied times three?”
Horton also advises looking at the ingredients list, particularly at the first ingredients.
“Is it what should be first, or is it an unexpected and perhaps less than healthy ingredient?”