The Food and Drug Administration is proposing to update the criteria for labeling foods as “healthy” on their packaging. Comments on this proposal are due by Dec. 28.

Under existing rules there are specific criteria for individual nutrients that must be met in a food for it to bear the “healthy” claim, including limits on total fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, and sodium, and minimum amounts of nutrients whose consumption is encouraged, such as vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium, iron, protein, and dietary fiber. However, nutrition science and federal dietary guidance have changed since the “healthy” claim was first defined in 1994, making the current rules outdated.

The FDA states that under the proposed rule more foods that are part of a healthy dietary pattern and recommended by the Dietary Guidelines would be eligible to use the “healthy” claim on their labeling, including nuts and seeds, higher-fat fish (such as salmon), certain oils, and water. Specifically, the rule provides that to use this claim products would need to (1) contain a certain meaningful amount of food from at least one of the food groups or subgroups (e.g., fruit, vegetable, dairy) recommended by the Dietary Guidelines and (2) adhere to specific limits for certain nutrients, such as saturated fat, sodium, and added sugars. The proposed rule would also add certain recordkeeping requirements for foods bearing the “healthy” claim where compliance cannot be verified through information on the product label.

The FDA is also exploring the development of a symbol that manufacturers could use to show that their product meets the “healthy” claim criteria.

For more information on this and other FDA issues, please contact FDA consultant Domenic Veneziano at (202) 734-3939.

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