FDA to Hold “Healthy” Food to a Higher Standard


Some people call it SAD: Standard American Diet. This acronym is especially poignant when sobering statistics show the average American eats 130 pounds of sugar per year, which translates to three pounds per week! As a result of poor dietary choices, 41% of adults in the United States are obese.

For better or worse, lifestyle choices, including what people choose to eat and drink, contribute significantly to their health. The leading cause of death in the U.S. is heart disease. This accounts for one in every five deaths, 697,000 per year. In addition to the human toll, heart disease costs the U.S. $229B each year.

There are many reasons Americans cite for not making healthy food choices: high cost, limited availability, access and prep time to name a few, leading Americans to increasingly reach for processed, convenient options. Convenience plays an important role when it comes to food and today there is no shortage of processed food options in the market. While it is true that many ultra-processed foods contain minimal nutritional value, many manufacturers are now taking strides to promote healthy processing techniques and create better-for-you options.

Holding “Healthy” Labels to a Higher Standard

With so many options on store shelves, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is trying to make it easier for consumers to make healthy food choices with new nutrition labels. Officials hope it will be easier for people to make healthier choices when they understand what healthy options are available. Without a standard for “healthy”, it is difficult for consumers to know what is truly healthy, versus what is being marketed to them with false claims. The FDA’s proposed new “healthy” food labels seek to create a standard that food must reach to have that label to provide more clarity to consumers. With the newly updated definition of the term “healthy” from the FDA, food manufacturers are held to specific standards and consumers can trust their claims.

To reach the new requirements for “healthy” products, food must include:

  1. A certain amount of food from at least one of the food groups or sub-groups (fruits, vegetables, dairy)
  2. Adhere to specific limits for certain nutrients, such as saturated fat, sodium and added sugars. The threshold for the limits 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)

For example, for a granola bar to be considered healthy, it would need to contain ¾ ounce of whole grains and no more than 1 gram of saturated fat, 230 milligrams of sodium and 2.5 grams of added sugars.

The FDA also plans to create an easily recognizable symbol to give consumers an empowering tool to make mindful and informed food choices. The easily recognizable marker would be designed to help those unfamiliar with nutritional information more easily recognize foods that are aligned with healthy eating habits.

These new regulations will most likely hold food and beverage manufacturers who want to use the word “healthy” on their labels to a higher standard. This may require that quality is tested and confirmed and that sources of all raw materials are easily traceable.

Regardless of new label standards, manufacturers will still produce many “unhealthy” products, but shoppers can now access helpful information to make purchasing decisions for their health.

Smart Manufacturing: A Key Player in Healthy Food Production

To provide trustworthy, accurate health claims to customers on food packaging, manufacturers will need to have a deep understanding of every ingredient added throughout its product’s lifecycle – from the original source of raw materials through to final production. While manufacturers don’t have to trace a cocoa bean back to the plant it grew from, they might have to trace that raw material from its production site of origin, and then measure the amount of cocoa added to each batch of cereal. Finding and maintaining this level of visibility would be essential for FDA compliance and consumer trust.

Smart manufacturing is already revolutionizing the food and beverage industry by enabling unparalleled traceability which is critical in upholding quality assurance. By leveraging the same state-of-the-art technology used to swiftly identify affected products during recalls, companies could have an effective and reliable way of ensuring ingredients adhere to FDA standards of “healthy”. Quality management systems (QMS) could offer an essential safeguard for meeting new standards, ensuring that products delivered to store shelves are safe and aligned with health requirements.

Returning to the granola bar example above, manufacturers can rely on QMS systems to ensure that the final product contains a balanced amount of wholesome ingredients, like whole grains, and not too much saturated fat or sodium to meet health standards.

FDA Is Hoping for Healthy Outcomes

Maintaining a healthy diet has many long-term perks. Eating well is associated with increased longevity and may provide relief to those managing chronic illnesses. Making the choice to fill your plate up with “healthy” nutrient-dense options can result in noticeable and lasting results.

Smart manufacturing systems, combined with clear product labeling, can provide customers with the necessary knowledge to confidently make informed healthier food decisions.