Pop quiz: what do you think is the definition of “healthy”?
According to Webster’s dictionary, it means:
- Free from disease or pain, enjoying health of vigor of body, mind, or
- Showing physical, mental, or emotional well-being : evincing health
- Beneficial to one’s physical, mental, or emotional state : conducive to health
According to the FDA, it means:
|Conditions for the Use of “Healthy”|
|Individual Food||Seafood/Game Meat||Meal/Main Dish|
|TOTAL FAT||Low fat**||<5g fat per RACC* & per 100g||Low fat|
|SATURATED FAT||Low saturated fat***||<2g sat fat per RACC & per 100g||Low saturated fat|
|SODIUM||≤480mg per RACC & labeled serving; or per 50g if RACC is small||≤480mg per RACC & labeled serving; or per 50g if RACC is small||≤600mg per labeled serving|
|CHOLESTEROL||≤ disclosure level||<95mg per RACC & per 100g||≤ 90 mg per labeled serving|
|BENEFICIAL NUTRIENTS||Contains at least 10% of Daily Value/RACC for vitamins A, C, calcium, iron, protein, or fiber except: raw fruits and vegetables; or a single ingredient or mixture of frozen or canned single ingredient fruits and vegetables (may include ingredients whose addition does not change the nutrient profile of the fruit or vegetable); enriched cereal-grain products that conform to a standard of identity||Contains at least 10% of Daily Value/RACC for vitamins A, C, calcium, iron, protein, or fiber||Contains at least 10% of the Daily Value or individual serving of two nutrients (for a main dish product) or of three nutrients (for a meal product) of vit. A, vit. C, calcium, iron, protein, or fiber
* RACC = Reference Amount Customarily Consumed per Eating Occasion; small RACC = 30 g or less, or 2 tablespoons or less
** Low fat = 3 g or less per RACC (and per 50 g if RACC is small); meals and main dishes: 3 g or less per 100 g and not more than 30% of calories from fat
***Low saturated fat = 1 g or less per RACC and 15% or less of calories from saturated fat; meals and main dishes: 1 g or less per 100 g and less than 10% of calories from saturated fat
Ok…WHAAAATTT DOES THAT EVEN MEAN??!?!
If THAT is the definition of “healthy” for food labels, then it’s no WONDER consumers find shopping for healthy foods so confusing. I’m telling you right now, if I asked 20 people right off the street if fruit was considered healthy, I would never get a 100% consensus. I guarantee the group would be divided between the “of course fruit is healthy” faction and those who firmly believe, “no way it’s healthy because fruit is loaded with sugar”. If I had a dollar for every time I had to convince an elderly patient at the hospital that he is allowed to eat fruit with his diabetes and green veggies with his Coumadin…well let’s just say I could probably own the hospital. I don’t blame these patients if that travesty of a definition of “healthy” by the FDA is what people are working with. Well never fear, in the words of Sam Cooke, “It’s been a long, long time coming…but I know a change is gonna come”.
The CEO of the Kind company (maker of delicious and nutritious bars and snacks) recently announced he is pledging $25 million to “fund public education on the role of corporate influence in the food and nutrition industries” (source). He is planning to create an organization called “Feed the Truth”, which will set out to improve nutrition information provided to consumers.
The Kind-ness comes on the heels of a letter Kind received from the FDA denouncing their use of the word “healthy” to describe their products. Certain flavors of their bars contain more fat than is “allowed” under the FDA definition, but that fat is coming from sources such as nuts and coconut oil. With all the new research emerging on the role dietary fat ACTUALLY plays in our bodies and how the culprit may actually be added sugars, Kind has a valid argument for claiming the word “healthy” when utilizing these natural fat sources.
If I had to put together a dietitian definition of “healthy”, it would be about going back to basics. Natural foods, less processed ingredients. Increased fruits and vegetables. Whole grains. Lean proteins. Heart-healthy fats. Nutrition will never be a one-size-fits-all kinda science, but I will be bold enough to say that definition of “healthy” pretty much applies to everyone.
I probably have a different person coming up to me every day to ask, “What about [fill in the blank with some new food trend here]?” Spoiler alert: I’m probably going to burst your bubble every time. Trends are fleeting, but fruits and veggies will always be considered healthy. Keep it simple.