The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has launched a review of the 20-year-old official definition of “healthy” following a petition KIND Snacks issued last December requesting the definition be amended.
What inspired this petition by KIND? They realized Poptarts and Spaghetti-O’s are healthy by today’s regulatory standards, but a handful of almonds and salmon are not.
These standards are what spurned the warning letter the FDA sent to KIND in March 2015 stating that select KIND bars did “not meet the requirements for the use of the nutrient content claim ‘healthy’” as they contain too much fat per serving due to the amount of nuts in the bars.
The FDA has since reversed its stance and affirmed KIND can use the word on its packaging—but only because its usage wasn’t a nutrition content claim.
Food can only be marketed as “healthy” if it meets five criteria for fat, saturated fat, sodium, cholesterol and beneficial nutrients. These foods cannot have more than 3g of total fat or 1g of saturated fat per serving.
This is why items like fat-free chocolate pudding and sugary cereals pass the “healthy” test, but KIND bars and avocados do not.
The regulations are now misaligned with more current ones, like the removal of the recommendation for an upper limit of total fat by the 2015 dietary guidelines advisory committee report and the FDA’s own proposal to remove the ‘calories from fat’ declaration on the Nutrition Facts panel.
These contradictions can prove to be confusing for consumers, especially when you take into account other recommendations like the government’s current MyPlate guidelines that include nuts, seeds and fish as part of a balanced diet.
FDA spokeswoman Lauren Kotwicki released a statement Tuesday about the review of the term, stating, “we believe now is an opportune time to re-evaluate regulations concerning nutrient content claims, generally, including the term ‘healthy.’ ”
This comes at a time when consumers are more concerned about living a healthy lifestyle rather than specific nutrient levels. More research is emerging to underscore that it isn’t the amount of fat you eat, but rather the types of fat you eat that contribute to your health.
The FDA is planning to ask the public and food experts alike about how “healthy” should be defined. This gives the FDA insight to propose a rule change, allows for another comment period, the final rule development and then implementation. The process to change the definition could easily take up to several years in order to give food manufacturers a chance to adapt to the new rule.
The effects of a potential change to the “healthy” definition would be sweeping. Similar to changes made to the Nutrition Facts panel, nearly every food and beverage manufacturer could be impacted.
More importantly, food marketing could dramatically change. Cohesive guidelines and regulations would empower both consumers and brands—leading to more clearly defined grocery lists and brand strategy.
Mackenzie Mennucci, Content Specialist & Social Community Manager