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Should the FDA Be Telling Us What Is Healthy?

It’s all in the label . . . Or is it?

Person holding labeled can of food to show FDA rules on nutrition labels

These days, there’s no shortage of opinions on what “optimal” eating looks like, and what constitutes “healthy” food is a thorny topic. But soon we may have a little more FDA guidance on what foods and drinks at the supermarket are considered smarter choices.

The Food and Drug Administration recently announced new rules for nutrition labels that can be placed on the front of food packages to indicate that they are healthy. Under the proposal, manufacturers can label their products “healthy” if they contain a meaningful amount of food from at least one of the food groups or subgroups (such as fruit, vegetables or dairy) recommended by the current Dietary Guidelines for Americans. They must also adhere to specific limits for saturated fat, sodium and added sugars.

For instance, a boxed cereal would need to contain at least 0.75 ounce of whole grains and no more than 1 gram of saturated fat, 230 milligrams of sodium and 2.5 g of added sugars per serving to be able to be branded as healthy.

The agency says the goal of this front-of-package labeling is to help consumers more easily identify healthful foods and prompt manufacturers to reformulate products to meet the healthful criteria, such as by skimming off some of the sodium.

The FDA is also researching a symbol to illustrate the “healthy” claim. The proposal has a ways to go before being finalized and is likely to be met with resistance from food manufacturers and other groups, such as those concerned that loopholes will allow less- healthy products to be dubbed “healthy” and groups that disagree with the specifics of (or the very existence of) the government-issued dietary guidelines. 

Do you think this proposed labeling regulation is well overdue and will help Americans improve their diet? Do you feel this “healthy” label is unnecessary and won’t do much for improving the way people eat? Do you feel these guidelines go too far—or not far enough? What would you define as “healthy” when evaluating packaged foods and drinks?

Send your answers to Sandy Todd Webster at [email protected].

See also: Will FDA Guidelines Reduce Sodium Intake?


Matthew Kadey, MS, RD

Matthew Kadey, MS, RD, is a James Beard Award–winning food journalist, dietitian and author of the cookbook Rocket Fuel: Power-Packed Food for Sport + Adventure (VeloPress 2016). He has written for dozens of magazines, including Runner’s World, Men’s Health, Shape, Men’s Fitness and Muscle and Fitness.

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