You're rushing through the grocery store on your way home from work,
trying to get some shopping done for the week. You come across a box of
cereal that has the word "healthy" emblazoned on it. You hesitate,
not sure if you should buy it--after all, what does "healthy"
If you've ever experienced the same confusion, you're not alone--the
U.S. Food and Drug Administration is soliciting public opinion on how
foods should be defined as healthy on their packaging. "'Healthy'
is a term that can mean a great many things to consumers," says
Amy Alias, MD, a board-certified internal medicine physician at
St. Jude Heritage Medical Group. "Is it low in cholesterol, high in fiber or without trans fats?
Is it good for people with special dietary needs, such as diabetics? Does
it have whole grains or natural ingredients? The FDA estimates that shoppers
make purchasing decisions in about three to five seconds, so there's
not a lot of time to parse the meaning of the word."
Recently, the FDA decided to
update nutritional labels on packaged foods to align with the latest Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
With the label update comes a need to update nutritional claims such as
"healthy." The FDA also received a citizen petition asking that
this claim accurately reflects the dietary standards.
The FDA allows a food to be labeled as healthy if it meets certain criteria--not
only does it have to be low in unhealthy things such as sodium, saturated
fat and cholesterol, but it also has to meet certain standards for beneficial
nutrients, such as fiber, calcium and certain vitamins. And these criteria
can vary for different types of foods. The citizen petition asks that
"healthy" be used to refer to total fat and overall dietary
patterns, and not to specific nutrients.
"Both the FDA and the public see a need to clarify this 'healthy'
claim to make it more understandable for consumers," Dr. Alias says.
"The FDA is asking what people think 'healthy' should mean,
what the criteria should be for a food to be considered healthy, if the
same criteria should be applied to all types of foods and if 'healthy'
is even the best word to use, among other issues."
Public comments can be submitted through Jan. 26, 2017. To leave a comment
online or read more about the issue,
visit their site.
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This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical
care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.