FDA proposes new rules for ‘healthy’ label on food packaging

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Wednesday proposed new rules dictating when food products can have the world “healthy” on their packaging as part of an effort to promote healthier eating in the U.S.

The FDA regulates what foods can have the “healthy” claim on food packaging. The term “healthy” was last defined by the FDA in 1993 and was based on then-current recommendations having to do with issues like fat intake and how much of certain vitamins people should consume.

According to the FDA, the new rules would change the definition of “healthy” to reflect “current nutrition science.” Under these new rules, more foods like nuts, seeds and certain oils would be permitted to be labelled as “healthy.”

If the FDA’s proposed rules are adopted, foods labeled as “healthy” would need to have “meaningful” amounts of at least one food group or subgroup that is recommended by the federal government’s Dietary Guidelines. The products would also have to meet certain limitations on nutrients like saturated fat, sodium and added sugars.

As the agency noted in guidance issued in 2016, the scientific understanding of nutrition has evolved in the more than 20 years since “healthy” was defined. These changes include the inclusion “good fats,” such as polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats which have been shown to lower the risk for certain diseases.

The FDA also pointed out that nutrient intake has shifted and a deficiency of nutrients like vitamins A and C are no longer public health concerns.

“Nutrition is key to improving our nation’s health,” Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra said in a statement. “Healthy food can lower our risk for chronic disease. But too many people may not know what constitutes healthy food. FDA’s move will help educate more Americans to improve health outcomes, tackle health disparities and save lives.”

The announcement from the FDA came on the same day as the White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition and Health. During the conference, Becerra joined with federal and local lawmakers to further this message on improving nutritional intake.

“We have to make it so that everyone understands that nutrition is health and food is medicine,” Becerra said.

Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), chairwoman of the House Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Appropriations Subcommittee, spoke at the event and called for actions to increase access to plant-based foods and for more research to be conducted into the relationship between food and chronic illness.

New York City Mayor Eric Adams (D) shared how his diet impacted his own health and called the need for better nutrition a “moral imperative.”

“This issue is not only a professional responsibility, but it’s a personal responsibility,” Adams said, telling of how he once “woke up with vision loss.”

“Doctor told me I was going to be blind in a year. I was going to lose some fingers and toes because of permanent nerve damage, just to learn that I had advanced stages of diabetes.”

Adams said that it was “never my DNA, it was my dinner” that was affecting his health. According to the mayor, the health issues he was facing went away after he transitioned to a “whole food, plant-based diet.”

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