FDA Redefines Its Antiquated Definition Of “Healthy”

According to standards established by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) chocolate pudding is healthy and salmon is not.

They also consider Poptarts to be healthier than almonds.

Now before you throw out your kale, broccoli and avocados and begin gorging on jello, pudding and diet soda, consider the following:

The science of healthy eating has changed since the Food and Drug Administration wrote the current guidelines in the 1990s.

Those standards are based on research and information that is more than 20 years old.

In fact, under the current guidelines salmon, avocados, eggs and almonds did not make it into the healthy category.

How is this possible?

Well, under the current definition of “healthy,” foods are required to meet specific government criteria on the amount of fat, saturated fat, sodium, cholesterol and nutrients they contain. Food products with “healthy” on their label are not allowed more than one gram of saturated fat per serving and less than 15% of their calorie content can be from saturated fat.

“We used to believe that sugary cereals were fine, as long as they were fortified with vitamins and minerals,” Katherine Tallmadge, a nutritionist, told NBC News. “Now we want people to eat the whole food — whole grains.”

This is why things we know are unhealthy—like Poptarts, are still considered “healthy” according to the FDA and natural unprocessed, whole foods are not.

This issue was brought to light recently when Kind—a company that makes nutty snack bars was asked to remove the word “healthy” from its label by the FDA. The reasoning behind the request was that nuts, which is the key ingredient for most of Kind’s products, contain nutritious fats that exceed the allowable amount.

Kind challenged the ruling and won.

This is a big win for the company but an even bigger win for the consumer who is trying to be a bit more health conscious.

The FDA is currently working to revamp its definition of “healthy.”

When the label originated we were in the genesis of the fat-free and low-fat trend of the 1990’s.

Companies would remove the fat from their products but would pad them with other ingredients like flour, sugar and sodium to compensate for the loss in flavor fat provides. So the foods were low in fat but were still far from what we now know is truly good for your health.

“Consumers want to make informed food choices and it is the FDA’s responsibility to help them by ensuring labels provide accurate and reliable nutrition information. In light of evolving nutrition research, forthcoming Nutrition Facts Labeling final rules, and a citizen petition, we believe now is an opportune time to reevaluate regulations concerning nutrient content claims, generally, including the term ‘healthy.’ We plan to solicit public comment on these issues in the near future,” the FDA said in a statement.

Featured image by Mike Mozart on Flickr, available for use under Creative Commons 2.0 license

Consumer Expert Denise Hill

Denise is currently a writer and editor for a federal agency in Washington, DC. She is an open-minded free spirit always ready for new adventures. She enjoys traveling and relishes being exposed to alternate points of view. Faith, family and finances are the core of her value system. She follows her own path and marches to her own beat. She is a dream chaser and with her husband and best friend by her side, she plans to take over the world.