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Mike Pomranz
Updated September 27, 2016

Merriam-Webster defines “healthy” as “conducive to health,” and defines “health” as “the condition of being sound in body, mind, or spirit; especially: freedom from physical disease or pain.”

Yes, that intro makes it sound like I’m about to launch into a really bad toast, but it also proves a point: The definition of “healthy” is pretty ambiguous – especially if a brand plans on using it on the label of a food product. Who’s to say if, for example, eating an entire quart of ice cream isn’t conducive to the condition of being sound in spirit? Sometimes it is, right?

Well, in the United States, the Food and Drug Administration thinks they should be the ones to determine the meaning of the word, though they admit that even what they believe it should mean has shifted over time. So as part of the FDA’s recent changes to Nutrition Facts labels, today the government organization announced it is “looking at how we define the claim ‘healthy,’” making sure that the criteria for the claim “stays up to date.”

The FDA explains: “For instance, the most recent public health recommendations now focus on type of fat, rather than amount of fat. They focus on added sugars, which consumers will see on the new Nutrition Facts label. And they focus on nutrients that consumers aren’t getting enough of, like vitamin D and potassium.”


At this point, the FDA admits they have only “started to consider the criteria or terms for an updated definition” including “asking for public input,” but in the meantime, they have also issued new “nonbinding recommendations” for ways the term can be used by food manufactures moving forward.

First, the “healthy” tag can now be applied to foods that “are not low in total fat, but have a fat profile makeup of predominantly mono and polyunsaturated fats.” Second, it’s also now considered healthy if foods “contain at least ten percent of the Daily Value (DV) per reference amount customarily consumed (RACC) of potassium or vitamin D.” In simpler language, the FDA makes two admissions: 1) the kind of fats in food are more important than being low fat overall, and 2) it’s healthy for people to be getting more potassium and vitamin D in their foods.

Granted, the new updated definition may be just as confusing in its technical specifics as the good old dictionary definition is in its ambiguities, but then again, no one said being healthy was easy. Except for that 115-year-old woman who says she eats bacon every day. That seems totally doable.

[h/t Food Business News]

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