The Food and Drug Administration’s official definition of “healthy” should steer consumers toward fruits, vegetables, and other under-consumed healthy foods—and away from their unhealthy competitors in the processed food aisles, according to comments submitted to the agency by the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest. Since September 2016, the FDA has been seeking public comment on an updated definition for the term, last defined by the agency in the 1990s.
Besides steering consumers toward fruits and vegetables, the definition of “healthy” should also sharply limit added sugars and retain or tighten current limits on sodium, cholesterol, and saturated fat. CSPI supports allowing “healthy” claims on foods that are high in total fat but low in saturated fat. CSPI also supports a requirement that any grains in “healthy” foods should be 100 percent whole grains or bran. And, the term should be excluded from labels for fruit juices, red and processed meats, alcoholic beverages, sugar-sweetened beverages, candy, and any foods containing partially hydrogenated oils, according to the group.
However, CSPI warned that loosening or replacing some nutrient criteria with weak food-based criteria, as some have advocated, would open a huge new loophole that would lead to deception.
“Allowing some products to carry a ‘healthy’ claim because they contain a minimal amount of a fruit, vegetable, or other recommended food would just make it easier for veggie chips and ‘fruit’ snacks to compete with fresh fruits and vegetables,” said CSPI senior nutritionist Lindsay Moyer. “No matter how FDA defines the term, consumers should realize that manufacturers will mostly be interested in using ‘healthy’ for marketing purposes—to sell you more processed food that you may not need.”