What Does 'Healthy' Mean to You? The FDA Wants to Know

IStock / IStock

Food labeling is a tricky business. Manufacturers have traditionally been a little too clever for their own good, confusing consumers by attributing nutritional information to selected serving sizes and clouding natural and artificial sources of sugars. Now, the Food and Drug Administration wants to clarify what might be the most ambiguous packaging claim of all: whether the contents are “healthy.”

The way the FDA first defined the word in 1994 referred mainly to products that were low in fat, which was of particular concern to diet-conscious Americans at the time. Under that definition, a box of low-sodium, vitamin-fortified Frosted Flakes might qualify, whereas a higher-fat food like peanuts would not.

Since then, nutritionists have zeroed in on the harmful effects of too much sugar as well as the benefits of unsaturated fats. The agency is now accepting input from consumers on how best to redefine “healthy” for food labeling, from what ingredients are included to the kind of fat present.

The FDA is expected to relax restrictions on the current definition so it doesn’t exclude products—like energy bars—that might not meet the outdated requirements. But don’t expect to see any changes overnight: The last revision of food labels, which emphasized calories and clarified serving portions, took nine years to finalize.

[h/t Wall Street Journal]