What is ‘healthy’? FDA proposes new definition as added sugar, not fat, becomes nutritional bogeyman

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.’

According to the agency, “FDA is concerned that including criteria for nutrients to encourage could spur fortification to allow foods that are low in saturated fat, sodium, and added sugars to qualify for the ‘healthy’ claim, despite these foods not contributing to a meaningful amount of a food group (e.g., white bread fortified with calcium).

“We tentatively conclude that using food groups* to encourage as the criteria for ‘healthy’ rather than a limited set of nutrients, would better identify foods with the nutrient content that may help consumers maintain healthy dietary practices, consistent with current nutrition science and federal dietary guidance.”

Limits on sodium, saturated fat, added sugars

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.

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