The Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) will reconsider the conditions allowing food producers to label and market their products as “healthy”. In reviewing its definition of “healthy”, the body is taking on a bigger task than first meets the eye. Specifically, it will have to reassess the relevance and accuracy of criteria currently in place, such as the fat content of food products.
The things that set the ball in motion was a petition by KIND, a food company the FDA had asked to remove the label “healthy” from their packaging. The company reacted by challenging The FDA’s definition of the term and was later allowed to market their products as “healthy” again.
The FDA’s current criteria date back from 1994 and indicate that in order to be labeled as “healthy”, food products must not exceed certain levels of total and saturated fat, cholesterol and salt. In addition, they must contain at least 10 percent of the daily recommended amount of vitamins, minerals, fiber and other nutrients.
Increasingly, nutrition experts argue that it is not so much about the quantity of fat contained in products, but more about the type of fat. According to clinical associate professor Joan Salge Blake from the Boston University, products high in unsaturated fats, such as those contained in olive oil, nuts, salmon and more are in fact beneficial to human health, unlike the saturated fats. However, although they are proven to play a role in protecting the heart, such products would not meet the FDA’s current “health’ criteria due to their having a high percentage of total fat. Consequently, they cannot be labeled and marketed as a healthy option, unless the regulation changes.
On the other hand, other food products, such as snacks, cereals and juice drinks can still be labeled as “healthy”, although their nutritional value is low and, even more worrisome, are full of sugar. According to Blake, today we have a vantage point that allows us to look with a critical eye and take a stand. This was not the case back in the 1990s, when there weren’t that many products around. Also, around that time many food producers began releasing low-fat and high-sugar products, which complied to the recommendations.
Again, this points to the fact that FDA regulations on the matter are obsolete. If it materializes, the change is expected to affect the US food market at a very profound level.
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