In an effort to improve the average American diet and fight chronic disease, the Food and Drug Administration has proposed new criteria for what kinds of food can be labeled as “healthy” — the first major change in the agency’s approach to what constitutes adequate nutrition in almost thirty years.
As it stands now, about five percent of packaged foods sold in the U.S. are labeled as “healthy.” Under FDA standards established in 1994, food manufacturers are allowed to describe a product as healthy as long as it provides at least 10 percent of the daily recommended amount of one or more key nutrients, including vitamin A, vitamin C, protein, calcium, and iron. The product is also supposed to have strict limits of saturated fat, sodium, and cholesterol.
But the current standard also allows added sugars in processed foods, which has encouraged the sale of many supposedly “healthy” products, such as sugar-laced yogurt, cereals, and bread, that might actually contribute to diet-related health problems, including heart disease and Type 2 diabetes. The proposed change would limit added sugars — in most cases, to no more than 2.5 grams per serving — while increasing restrictions on sodium and saturated fat. For example, a frozen salmon-and-rice dinner would only be considered healthy if it contained four grams or less of saturated fat.
The overall goal, according to agency officials, is not simply to stop the “healthy” label from being misused but also to help consumers make better decisions about what they choose to eat. More than 80 percent of Americans don’t consume enough vegetables, fruits, and dairy products in their daily diet; in fact, studies suggest the most common “vegetable” component consists of fried potatoes.
“Healthy eating patterns are associated with improved health, yet most people’s eating patterns do not align with current dietary recommendations,” said Susan Mayne, director of the FDA Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. “In addition to today’s action, we continue to advance a number of FDA initiatives and explore new ways to coordinate, leverage and amplify important work going on across the nutrition ecosystem to help improve people’s diets and make a profound impact on the health of current and future generations.”
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