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What the new FDA ‘healthy’ definition means for food labeling, consumers

(SILVER SPRING, Md.) — Foods that claim to be “healthy” on their packaging will soon be subject to a new set of labeling guidelines, part of an effort by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to help educate consumers on nutrition literacy and align packaging language with current nutritional guidance.

The FDA announced the new rules on Wednesday.

The proposed update will ensure that food labels with “healthy” content claims are better aligned with current nutrition science, the updated Nutrition Facts label and the current Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

For example, foods like salmon, despite having higher fat content, can now be labeled as “healthy,” as it is a nutrient-dense food.

According to the FDA, “The proposed rule would update the ‘healthy’ claim definition to better account for how all the nutrients in various food groups contribute and may work synergistically to create healthy dietary patterns and improve health.”

“Diet-related chronic diseases, such as cardiovascular disease and Type 2 diabetes, are the leading causes of death and disability in the U.S. and disproportionately impact racial and ethnic minority groups,” FDA Commissioner Robert M. Califf, M.D., said in a statement on Wednesday. “Today’s action is an important step toward accomplishing a number of nutrition-related priorities, which include empowering consumers with information to choose healthier diets and establishing healthy eating habits early. It can also result in a healthier food supply.”

The moves by the FDA are part of a broader anti-hunger push from President Biden. The changes were announced ahead of the White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health.

The FDA also plans move nutrition labels from the back to the front of a food package to help consumers “with lower nutrition literacy.”

The newly proposed rule on healthy labels is part of the agency’s ongoing commitment to help improve nutrition and dietary patterns for consumers to ultimately help reduce the burden of chronic disease and advance health equity.

According to the FDA, 80% of Americans don’t eat enough vegetables, fruit and dairy, and most consume too much added sugars, saturated fat and sodium.

“Nutrition is key to improving our nation’s health,” HHS 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.”

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