Science Is Changing What Food Can Be Described as Mighty Healthy (Audio)
Despite the scientific elements to food and nutrition, the word “healthy” is subjective, and its definition is relative to one’s tastes, lifestyle, socioeconomic class, and much more. While few would argue that junk food is a healthy option, there is far less clarity when it comes to other foods, like energy bars, cereals, fruit juices. In fact, there are many items on grocery shelves whose labels are stamped with the world “healthy” when in fact they contain levels of sugar, fat, and other ingredients that make them just as unhealthy as a Big Mac. And so the Federal Drug Administration is stepping in to bring clarity and science to what healthy means, when it comes to what we eat and drink.
As reported by NPR, the FDA’s definition of what comprises a healthy snack or meal is being revisited in an effort to enforce a stricter set of qualifications in the food and beverage industries. Now that the “fat-free era” has come and gone, thanks to food science recognizing that some fats (such as those in avocados and nuts) are indeed beneficial, the focus has shifted to “focus on type of fat, rather than amount of fat.” High rates of heart disease and obesity are also forcing the FDA to take a closer look at the role of sugar in our diet, which thus far hasn’t been a major player in what defines “healthy,” from a food-labeling perspective. Douglas Balentine, who directs the Office of Nutrition and Food Labeling at the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, tells NPR “Our thinking about sugars has changed, so I would think the amount of sugar in products is something we [will] take into account.”
According to the FDA’s official website, the move to reconsider what foods are able to use the word “healthy” on packaging is part of a broader plan to “provide consumers with information and tools to enable them to easily and quickly make food choices consistent with public health recommendations.” And, while “food manufacturers can continue to use the term ‘healthy’ on foods that meet the current regulatory definition,” the FDA is asking the public and industry experts to weigh in on how the word should be redefined. In fact, as NPR reports, you can submit “your ideas about what factors and criteria should be used for the new definition” directly to the government between now and January 26, 2017.
Already this year, major strides have been made in redefining food. In Philadelphia, the City Council is leading a charge to enforce a tax on sugary drinks like soda.