Trying to keep up with what food is considered healthy can be a challenge. It seems like every day there is some new report about foods being good, bad, or ugly. Then there is the fact that packages are often labeled with confusing terms, while some packages outright claim that the food is healthy. Since food claims are regulated by the government (at least sort of), what does the FDA think is healthy?
Actually, the FDA’s opinions on healthy food are, well, sort of unhealthy. The problem is that the FDA is a bit slow about updating standards, even when the science behind new guidelines is well established and accepted.
Consider fat, for one example. The FDA guidelines still consider all fat to be equally bad. The problem is that it is now widely understood that all fats are not the same. Fats from plants and fish are now considered to be healthy fats that our bodies actually need, whereas fats from other animal products should be limited. Under the existing FDA guidelines, foods that contain a lot of nuts would be considered unhealthy because the nuts contain too much fat. You might say that the whole situation is sort of “nuts.”
Another example of the FDA’s outdated regulations involves sugar. Science has increasingly shown that eating or drinking sugar is linked to a variety of health problems like obesity and heart disease. The agency is also considering revising its recommendations about sugar.
Not everyone thinks it is even a good idea for the FDA to be regulating food health claims. After all, it is now widely understood that we need to eat lots of unprocessed foods like fruit, vegetables, and whole grains and avoid or limit packaged and processed foods. That junk food is just so tasty and convenient that we like to eat it anyway.
The argument for the FDA regulating food claims is that people are often in a hurry to make a purchase and may not take the time to read and understand nutrition labels. The regulations concerning marketing claims like “healthy” then help to protect food shoppers from being misled by a deceptive claim.
Average citizens do have an opportunity to make their voice heard with the FDA. The agency is currently accepting comments on possible changes to the use of the word “healthy” on food packaging. Details on submitting a comment can be found on the regulations.gov website, along with a lot of background information that only an attorney could probably understand.