What Does 'Healthy' Even Mean?

If you think you know the definition of that one little word, think again.

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Twenty years ago, the word "healthy" was defined by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA), and that definition hasn't changed since. Back then, snack foods labeled "healthy" couldn't have more than 3g of total fat or 1g of saturated fat per serving. Today's consumers and media headlines, however, look at the word "healthy" through a different lens.

We're finally learning that the fat phobia we've been suffering from needs some therapy. Fatty foods that are considered to be good for you — like nuts, avocados, and salmon — are healthy for a host of reasons, including their potential to lower cholesterol, stabilize blood sugar levels, and keep you feeling fuller longer. These Instagram-starring items would not have fit into the original definition of healthy.

It's like putting a bandage on a broken arm: It shields the outside wound, but it doesn't take care of the problem that lies below the surface.

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Take KIND snacks, for example. About a year ago, the company received a warning letter from the FDA asking it to remove "healthy" from the back wrappers of four of its popular bars. KIND responded and removed the popular, although poorly-defined, word. The company proceeded to file a Citizen Petition — with the support of top health and nutrition experts, including myself — urging the FDA to update its regulatory definition of "healthy." After public support regarding how the word could be helpful on food labels, the FDA reversed its position and allowed KIND to welcome back this desired (yet still vague) term.

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Although this move is a positive step for the FDA and consumers alike, it's like putting a bandage on a broken arm: It shields the outside wound, but it doesn't take care of the problem that lies below the surface. This should be the beginning of a deeper conversation. We need to highlight foods containing ingredients that benefit the body and encourage balance and sensible eating patterns.

To help clear up a few other labeling issues, a new Nutrition Facts Panel may be coming to a package near you. The FDA has submitted its final rules for the makeover, and rumor has it these are some of the changes you may be seeing:

  • Remove "calories from fat."
  • Declare added sugars. (i.e., natural and added sugars will be listed separately.)
  • Update reference value for sodium from 2,400mg to 2,300mg.
  • Make amount of calories more prominent.
  • Amend definition of a "single-serving container."
  • List serving sizes to better reflect real-life consumption behavior.

The bottom line? You still need to read it before you eat it.

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