Healthy Has a New Meaning

Food Label

It seems everywhere you turn, the word “healthy” is used on food labels from granola bars to lunch meats and yogurt to pudding. “Healthy” is used so much the meaning has been lost. Nearly twenty years ago, low-fat was the craze, and foods low in fat were considered healthy. But now we know that some types of fat are actually good for us. So the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is changing the way healthy is defined in the food industry.

What is “healthy”?

Healthy can be defined as being wholesome, sound and balanced.  As far as food is concerned, “healthy” means containing the nutrients needed for proper health. A good balance of fiber, fat, and vitamins and minerals would meet the definition of “healthy.”

However, the food industry has been slow to move away from the outdated notion that low-fat foods are the only foods that should be labeled as healthy. According to guidelines, foods labeled “healthy” must have “healthy” levels of total fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, and sodium, which are equal to the following:

  • Low fat is equal to 3 grams or less of total fat per serving
  • Low saturated fat is equal to 1 gram or less of saturated fat per serving, and not more than 15percent of calories from saturated fat
  • Low sodium is equal to 140 milligrams or less per serving
  • Low cholesterol is equal to 20 milligrams or less and 2 g or less of saturated fat per serving

What has changed about the “healthy” label?

In March 2015, the KIND bar company was warned by the FDA to remove the word “healthy” from the label on their granola bars. KIND asked the FDA to allow them to use the word “healthy” since it describes more of a company mission than a health claim.  This led to the FDA looking into revising their guidelines.

Over the years, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) guidelines have started to recognize the health benefits of foods such as nuts, beans, and eggs. However, labeling rules don’t yet allow healthy fat-containing foods, such as nuts, avocado, salmon, and olives, to label themselves as “healthy,” since they exceed the fat guidelines for the current meaning of “healthy.”

The FDA is reviewing the current guidelines for “healthy,” since focusing only on fat content and not overall nutrition content can allow companies to market non-natural foods that meet outdated guidelines.  Furthermore, the FDA wants to work on defining the word “natural” since there is not a real meaning of that term in the food industry.

How can I eat “healthy”?

Until such guidelines are reworked, you can eat a healthy meal regimen by keeping it simple:

  • Eat fresh, whole foods or fresh foods that have been flash frozen
  • Limit intake of processed foods
  • Consume a balance of protein, healthy fats, and fiber each day by consuming mostly unprocessed meats and plant-based proteins, fats, and produce.




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