The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has proposed updated criteria for what kind of foods can claim to be “healthy” on packaging. The September 28 announcement suggested new criteria that would more closely align “healthy” foods with the definition used by nutrition science, the Nutrition Facts label, and current Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

The FDA’s new definition of healthy food would create a series of requirements for food products to meet in order to be able to market them as “healthy.” Those requirements are:

  1. The food contains a certain amount of ingredients from at least one of the major healthy food groups or subgroups recommended by the Dietary Guidelines including fruits, vegetables, or dairy.  
  2. The food adheres to specific limits for certain nutrients, such as saturated fat, sodium, and added sugars. The limit threshold is based on a percent of the Daily Value (DV) for the nutrient and varies depending on the food and food group. The limit for sodium is 10% of the DV per serving (230 milligrams per serving).

To help make this understanding clearer, the FDA offered an example in the form of cereal. In order to be declared healthy, a cereal product must contain 0.75 ounces of whole grains and contain no more than 1 gram of saturated fat, 230 milligrams of sodium, and 2.5 grams of added sugars. 

This new definition of what constitutes a healthy food comes as part of a national strategy aimed at ending hunger and improving nutrition and physical activity by 2030. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra endorsed the benefits of the FDA’s new rule, stating, “Healthy food can lower our risk for chronic disease. But too many people may not know what constitutes healthy food. FDA’s move will help educate more Americans to improve health outcomes, tackle health disparities and save lives.”

Under the proposed definition for the updated “healthy” claim, foods like nuts, seeds, high-fat fish, certain oils, and water will gain the term while other foods will lose the ability to gain the “healthy” marketing term until they meet the new standard.

According to the FDA, more than 80% of U.S. citizens aren’t consuming enough servings of vegetables, fruits, and dairy. Additionally, the agency claims that Americans also consume too many added sugars, saturated fats, and sodium. 

FDA Commissioner Dr. Robert M Califf M.D. stated, “Diet-related chronic diseases, such as cardiovascular disease and Type 2 diabetes, are the leading causes of death and disability in the U.S. and disproportionately impact racial and ethnic minority groups.” 

With the new proposed rule redefining what foods can be labeled as healthy, the FDA seeks to improve nutrition and dietary patterns to reduce the occurrence of chronic diseases and advance health equity.