No one thinks of Froot Loops or Frosted Flakes as healthy. Delicious, maybe, but certainly not healthy. Even Kellogg's doesn't, as they've never marketed them that way. No one, that is, but the FDA.
Under the FDA's current guidelines for what's considered "healthy," which haven't been updated since the '90s, those cereals meet all the criteria, from being low in fat to fortified with vitamins, despite being high in sugar. Meanwhile, the avocado, wellness' mascot, couldn't be considered "healthy" because they have too much fat.
But, as we know, ideas about health—particularly “healthy fat"—have drastically changed since the '90s. And thankfully, the FDA wants to catch up.
In a statement to The Wall Street Journal, the FDA said that, in light of evolving nutrition research and other forthcoming food-labeling rules, “we believe now is an opportune time to re-evaluate regulations concerning nutrient content claims, generally, including the term ‘healthy.’"
It's a tough question: What is the definition of healthy? You could say that this website devotes itself to figuring that out, and the answer is constantly changing as new research emerges.
But when the term “healthy” was first officially defined in 1994, low fat content was the main focus of health professionals. Sugar wasn’t really on anyone's radar. But now, as we know, sugar is addictive and can be deadly.
The outdated guidelines caught people's attention last year after the FDA sent a warning letter to the maker of Kind fruit-and-nut bars saying the company's products should not be labeled "healthy" because of their saturated fat levels.
Kind then petitioned the FDA for a re-evaluation of the term's definition, noting the fat in its bars comes from nuts, and that this same rule would prevent avocados and salmon from being labeled healthy, too.
Today, the FDA reversed its stance. It is allowing use of the phrase framed as a "corporate philosophy," rather than as a nutrient content claim.
In a statement released today, the FDA also noted that foods that do not meet the current criteria for the term "healthy" are not necessarily unhealthy.
"Conversely, just because a food contains certain ingredients that are considered good for you, such as fruit or nuts, it does not mean that the food can bear a 'healthy' nutrient content claim," the FDA said.
The federal agency is planning to ask the public as well as food experts for advice on what should be the new definition of healthy—and the process could, of course, take years. But it's a step.