Rather than requiring minimum amounts of nutrients to encourage, which critics say has tended to encourage fortified junk food rather than a switch to a healthier dietary pattern, the proposed rule reflects “current nutrition science and the Dietary Guidelines” by requiring foods to contain a certain amount of food (a ‘food group equivalent’) from at least one of a list of recommended food groups (e.g., ½ cup of fruit or ¾ cup of dairy) to be labeled ‘healthy.’
It also proposes limits on sodium and saturated fat (which are already included in the current criteria), along with adding a limit on added sugars (which is new).
For sodium, the proposal lowers the criteria from 480mg per ‘Reference Amounts Customarily Consumed’ (RACC) to <230 mg per RACC for individual foods to be labeled ‘healthy.’
For saturated fat, the FDA is proposing a baseline limit of 5% of the daily value per RACC (≤ 1 g) for most foods, but 10% DV for dairy products, game meats, seafood, and eggs; and 20% of total fat for oils and oil-based spreads and dressings (which would exclude high saturated fat oils such as coconut oil from making healthy claims). It is also “considering an approach using a ratio of saturated fat to total fat.” The limit for total fat has been removed.
For added sugars – which have a daily value of 50g – the FDA is proposing a pretty low baseline value of under 5% of the daily value per RACC (ie. under 2.5g), but says it is “also proposing to adjust the baseline values for added sugars as warranted, based on specific considerations of the different food groups and subgroups.”
Exceptions: Water, whole fruits, veggies
Selected foods that may not meet the above criteria, such as bottled water, eggs, nuts and seeds, whole fruits and vegetables, will also be permitted to make ‘healthy’ claims.
It is also seeking comment on the “eligibility of calorie-free beverages, coffee, and tea to bear the ‘healthy’ claim.”
As it revises its definition, the FDA is also researching the effectiveness of a symbol that manufacturers could use on the front of the pack to show that their product meets the definition of the ‘healthy’ claim.
Further reading: What is ‘healthy’? FDA proposes new definition as added sugar, not fat, becomes nutritional bogeyman