Everything you think you know about the word "healthy" is about to change for the better—at least when it comes to food labels
"Healthy" Gets an Update
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After 20 years, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has announced it will be re-evaluating how it defines "healthy" food and beverages. The push came from KIND Snacks, who filed a Citizen Petition in December 2015 requesting that the FDA update what it allows to be called "healthy." This petition, along with input from nutrition academics and the public, has the FDA taking notice. Here's what you need to know about the proposed changes and how it might affect your grocery cart.
Proposed Change: Good Fat Instead of Low Fat
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Do you think salmon, avocado, and almonds are healthy foods? The latest Dietary Guidelines for Americans say they are, yet the FDA's outdated definition of "healthy" says otherwise. Clearly our knowledge about good fats has changed the perception that we should be reaching for low-fat everything, when in fact fat is great for beautiful hair and skin, heart health, brain health, and for fighting depression. The FDA's current definition demands limited amounts of total fat for a food to be labeled "healthy."
In their petition, KIND has requested that products made from whole foods such as nuts, seeds, seafood, and vegetables have their natural fats counted as healthy.
Proposed Change: Value Whole Foods Over Just Nutrients
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Sure, you can create an energy bar that has all the right numbers: low in carbs and sugar, high in fiber, and packed with protein. But what if the ingredients list is made up of words you don't recognize and the bar is packed with artificial sweeteners? Should that food be called "healthy" while a whole food bar doesn't make the cut because it's made with roasted nuts that happens to be higher in fat? Using less-healthy foods in a product and then fortifying them with vitamins and minerals to "amp up" the nutrient content doesn't make it more healthy. Just because that packaged cereal is fortified with a number of vitamins doesn't make it better than eating a serving of fruit. Try to aim for products with whole ingredients you can pronounce. Or better yet, make homemade energy bars yourself.
Proposed Change: Identifying a Universal Concept of "Healthy"
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Does the word "healthy" even mean anything anymore? The FDA has proposed that maybe using the word on food labels isn't the best idea. Labeling something as "healthy" (or not) sets you up as a consumer for an instant judgment call, and it can turn something subjective into a mathematical equation.
Also, what is healthy for one person might not be healthy for someone else. Everyone has different nutrient needs and sensitivities. Knowing what nutrients foods have is helpful because it's something that can be measured. We should stop putting foods into black and white categories like "healthy foods" or "unhealthy foods," and focus instead on what goes into making them.
How Do *You* Define Healthy?
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What does "healthy" mean to you? The FDA is asking for people's feedback, so make sure you speak up and stand up for what you'd like to see happen in your grocery store and in your belly. You can share your thoughts online or by mail before January 26, 2017.