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Experts Discuss 'Healthy' Label Claim During FDA Webinar

Specialty Food Association

“Updating the ‘healthy’ food claim will empower the consumer to make healthier food choices,” said Dr. Claudine Cavanaugh, director of the Office of Nutrition and Labeling, Center for Food Science and Nutrition, to open FDA’s webinar on the “healthy” labeling claim, Friday.

Five and a half years after holding a public hearing on the “healthy” claim on food labeling, FDA published its draft guidance on September 28, 2022, based on current nutrition science and federal dietary guidelines. The new definition of “healthy” updates the definition that has been in effect since 1994.

Vincent de Jesus, a nutritionist in CFSAN’s Nutrition Assessment and Evaluation Branch, said that the inclusion of the “healthy” claim on labels will act as a quick signal for consumers, especially those with lower nutrition knowledge. He added that 75 percent of Americans consume less than the daily recommendation of fruits, vegetables, and dairy and that 77 percent exceed the recommended allowance for saturated fat.

Dr. Sarah Gebauer from CFSAN’s Nutrition Science Review Branch went into detail on how FDA’s thinking on a healthy diet has changed over the past 20 years. To be regarded as “healthy,” a food must now be from one of five food groups—fruits, vegetables, grains, dairy, and protein foods. There are also specific limits for added sugars, saturated fats, and sodium, although these can vary by food group. For instance, the overall limit for saturated fat is 5 percent but the limit is higher for dairy, seafood, and eggs. Gebauer said, “We want to encourage the consumption of those proteins.”

Under the proposed definition, raw whole fruits and vegetables would automatically qualify for the “healthy” claim because of their overall contribution to a healthy diet. Foods that are currently ineligible but would qualify under the new definition are water, avocadoes, nuts and seeds, higher-fat fish, and certain oils. White bread, highly sweetened yogurt and highly sweetened cereal would no longer qualify.

One questioner asked whether condiments would qualify. Gebauer noted that some could if they met the food group definition. De Jesus added that there would be a required notice and comment period if and when a “healthy” symbol is proposed.

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