FDA Proposes New ‘Healthy’ Claim on Food Labels

Sept. 28, 2022
Its food group-based approach continues prohibitions but allows salmon and nuts to be considered healthy.

The FDA today (Sept. 28) issued a proposed rule to update the definition of the “healthy” claim on food & beverage packaging. Interested parties have about three months to comment on it.

The 105-page document, which will be published in the Federal Register, goes into great detail on specifics, but generally relies on the Dietary Guidelines and current recommended daily allowances of certain nutrients.

“The proposed framework for the updated definition of ‘healthy’ uses a food group-based approach in addition to nutrients to limit (based on the understanding that each food group contributes an array of important nutrients to the diet),” the agency wrote in its announcement. “The proposed, updated ‘healthy’ criteria would emphasize healthy dietary patterns by requiring that food products contain a certain amount of food from at least one of the food groups or subgroups recommended by the Dietary Guidelines, 2020-2025 in order to be labeled ‘healthy.’

“The proposed regulation would also require a food product to be limited in certain nutrients, including saturated fat, sodium, and added sugars. The proposed rule would also add certain recordkeeping requirements for foods bearing the claim where compliance cannot be verified through information on the product label.”

The proposal acknowledges that the current definition allows the term on some foods that aren’t so healthy when taken in total, such as cereals with high amounts of sugar, while some truly healthy foods cannot currently use the term – salmon, for instance, due to its fat levels, even though they are “healthy” fats.

As an example, to include the “healthy” claim on the package, a cereal would need to contain a certain amount of whole grains but adhere to limits for saturated fat, sodium and added sugars. Nuts and seeds, higher-fat fish, certain oils and water are examples of foods that cannot currently be labeled as “healthy” but are part of a healthy dietary pattern and recommended by the Dietary Guidelines. They would qualify to bear the “healthy” claim under the proposed definition.

“As a result, we believe that the definition needs to be updated so that the use of the claim will again accurately represent that the levels of the nutrients in the food may help consumers maintain healthy dietary practices, consistent with current nutrition science and Federal dietary guidance, as reflected in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025,” according to FDA.

The announcement comes in the midst of the White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health. It’s been more than 50 years since the first and only White House Conference on Food, Nutrition, and Health was held in 1969.

See the Federal Register listing of the rule at https://bit.ly/3LND8jU (https://www.federalregister.gov/public-inspection/2022-20975/food-labeling-nutrient-content-claims-definition-of-term-healthy).

The FDA is also researching a symbol that manufacturers could use on the front of the package to show that their product meets the definition of the “healthy” claim. “Having a standardized graphic to show that a food qualifies for the ‘healthy’ claim would further support the FDA’s goal of helping consumers more easily identify packaged food products that help them build healthy eating patterns.”

Comments on the proposed rule should be submitted within 90 days after publication in the Federal Register. Submit electronic comments to www.regulations.gov. Submit written comments to the Dockets Management Staff (HFA-305), Food and Drug Administration, 5630 Fishers Lane, rm. 1061, Rockville, MD 20852. All comments should be identified with the docket number FDA-2016-D-2335.

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