Government Wants to Know What ‘Healthy’ Means to You

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The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is seeking input from the public on what the word “healthy” should mean when it appears on food packaging.

The federal agency requested public comments on the subject Wednesday and will accept comments through Jan. 26.

Douglas Balentine, director of the FDA’s Office of Nutrition and Food Labeling, explains in a blog post this week that the FDA has already started considering criteria for an updated definition for the “healthy” labeling claim. However, Balentine acknowledges that FDA officials “don’t have all the answers.”

For example, Balentine poses questions such as:

  • What current dietary recommendations should be reflected in the definition of “healthy”?
  • What are the public health benefits of defining the term “healthy”?
  • What do consumers expect of foods that carry a “healthy” claim?

Stephanie Perruzza, a registered dietician at the food company Kind, points out some of the issues with the current definition for “healthy,” telling Money Talks News by email:

As it stands, the current regulation precludes foods generally considered to be good for you — like nuts, avocados and salmon — from being labeled as healthy. However, it allows items like fat-free chocolate pudding, some sugary cereals and low-fat toaster pastries to carry the healthy designation.

In December, Kind petitioned the FDA to revisit some of its requirements for food labeling, including the “healthy” claim — particularly the amounts of total fat and saturated fat that can be contained in a food labeled as “healthy.”

Kind’s petition came after the company received a warning letter from the FDA regarding labeling claims on a few types of Kind snack bars, which are primarily made of nuts and fruit. The letter explained that, under current federal regulations, foods labeled as “healthy” must contain less than 1 gram of saturated fat, among other parameters.

Daniel Lubetzky, chief executive and founder of Kind, said in a statement this week that the company is encouraged by the FDA’s progress:

“The FDA has posed a number of important questions for comment,” Lubetzky continued, “and in our continued efforts to advocate for public health, we’re actively convening experts to help provide answers grounded in current nutrition science.”

What is your definition of “healthy” food? Share your thoughts below or on Facebook.

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