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The buzzword “healthy” on food labels can offer consumers peace of mind and be marketing gold for brands, but many health experts warn those products might not actually live up to their label.
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That’s why the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is holding a public meeting Thursday in Maryland, to reevaluate its current guidelines and requirements for labeling a product “healthy.”
“We’re basically trying to determine if this is something we should be updating because as nutritional values change over time, we too have to look at our definitions that we established a while ago to see if they are still current with nutritional thinking,” Deborah Kotz, press officer for the FDA, tells FOX Business.
The all-day meeting will feature panelists from top food companies such as Conagra Brands Inc. (CAG), KIND LLC, as well as health experts and nutritionists, many of whom argue the FDA’s current “healthy” regulations—which were established in 1993—are simply out of date.
“The system isn’t working as well as it could,” event panelist Lindsay Moyer, MS, RDN, and senior nutritionist at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, tells FOX Business.
“Fresh fruits and vegetables have to compete with aisles and aisles of processed snack foods that are often marketed to look healthy,” she says.
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Moyer says the major problem with the FDA’s “healthy” definition today is it disregards healthy fats found in nuts, fatty fish and avocado. According to the current regulation, anything with more than 3 grams of fat per serving cannot be labeled as “healthy.”
KIND was the first food company to formally challenge the current FDA fat limit back in 2015 when it filed a Citizen Petition urging the FDA to update its regulations.
“Because of the nuts in our products — which contain a decent amount of saturated and unsaturated fats — it didn’t meet [the FDA’s] nutrient thresholds that were set in place, while at the same time foods like sugary children’s cereals and low-fat puddings actually clear the bar. We thought this was unusual so we petitioned for them to revise it,” Justin Mervis, senior vice president and general counsel of KIND Snacks, tells FOX Business.
Kotz says the public meeting is a first step toward updating the FDA’s healthy label guidelines, and focusing on the type of fat, rather than the amount of fat.
“By updating the definition, we hope more companies will use the ‘healthy’ claim as the basis for new product innovation and reformulation, providing customers with a greater variety of ‘healthy’ choices in the marketplace,” Kotz says.