According to the FDA, about 5 percent of packaged foods are considered “healthy.” However, the definition of “healthy” the agency is currently using was set back in 1994. That is back when Blockbuster and scrunchies were a thing, and we still had a food pyramid telling us to eat more bread and pasta than fruits and vegetables combined.
As long as products have limited amounts of total fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, and sodium and provide at least 10 percent of the daily value of at least one essential nutrient, that food item is allowed to be marketed as “healthy” by food manufacturers.
That’s a pretty low bar.
Using these criteria, sugary cereals, granola bars, highly sweetened yogurts, and refined white bread all currently qualify as healthy. Meanwhile, water, avocados, nuts and seeds, and fatty fish like salmon do not qualify as healthy under the current standards.
Let me repeat that. Water – the liquid that is literally the basis of all life on earth – cannot be labeled as healthy, but Wonder Bread can.
The FDA will always choose corporations over consumers when it comes to healthy food recommendations
The problem is that there is currently no limit on added sugars written into the rules for what the agency considers healthy. That is a significant omission that creates a gaping loophole for food manufacturers to create all sorts of ultra-processed, overly sweetened, highly palatable junk and slap a “healthy” claim all over it.
There is some good news, though. At the White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health that was held last week, the FDA announced a proposal to update the criteria to finally place a limit on added sugars and allow for higher fat content in some foods.
It only took them nearly three decades, but someone in government finally realized that salmon and avocados are probably better for your health than Cocoa Puffs and Nature Valley bars.
The key takeaway? The updated criteria for what constitutes healthy food by the FDA is a step in the right direction and will hopefully encourage Americans to make smarter decisions when it comes to their nutrition. That said, you probably shouldn’t be relying on a government agency to steer you in the right direction when making choices about your nutrition.
Government food policy will always have to play catch up with optimal food recommendations because of the financial incentives put in place by Big Food. But as long as we agree that Wonder Bread isn’t healthier than water, we can at least say we are moving in the right direction.
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