Proposed labeling revision of “Healthy” claim on foods in the US

By | January 5, 2023

On September 28, 2022, Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a proposed rule to update the definition of the nutrient content claim “healthy”, which was set in 1994. The existing definition has limits for total fat, saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium and to qualify, foods must also provide at least 10% of the Daily Value (DV) for one or more of the following nutrients: vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium, iron, protein and fiber. The FDA accepted public comments until December 28, 2022.

Background of the revision

The latest dietary guidelines in the US have emphasized balanced dietary patterns to consume nutrients rather than focusing on individual nutrients contained in foods. In other words, one of the reasons for this revision is that there is a discrepancy between the current definition of “healthy” and the latest concept of it.
Claims such as “healthy” are an important source of information that allows consumers to select healthier foods at a glance. Currently, more than 80 percent of Americans are estimated to exceed the recommended intake limits for added sugars, saturated fats, and sodium while consuming less in vegetables, fruits, and dairy products. To help consumers improve nutritional and dietary balance and reduce the burden of chronic diseases, the FDA is proposing the changes as a part of an effort to improve health equity in line with current nutritional science and dietary guidelines.

The framework for “healthy”

As a revised proposal, total fat and cholesterol are considered to be removed, and added sugars are to be added among the nutrients covered by the current standards. The proposed definition of “healthy” is based on the revised Nutrition Facts and current nutrition science and Federal dietary guidance, “the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025”, for consumers to maintain healthy dietary practices close to the recommended dietary standards.

Specifically, the proposed definition of “healthy” would require food products contain a certain amount of food from at least one of the food groups or subgroups recommended by “the Dietary Guidelines, 2020-2025” in order to be labeled “healthy”. Limits on added sugars, saturated fat and sodium are set based on Daily Value (DV).

For example, fruits and vegetables, grains, protein, dairy products, etc. must be contained in a certain amount or more, and raw, whole fruits and vegetables automatically qualify for use of the claim.
Also, foods that currently do not meet the “healthy” claim criteria may still meet the requirements under the revised definition. e.g. water, avocados, nuts and seeds, higher fat fish such as salmon, and certain oils In contrast, foods with current “healthy” claims such as white bread, highly sweetened yogurt, and highly sweetened cereal may not meet the proposed definition.

Proposed Criteria for Certain Food Groups and Sample Foods
Per Reference Amount Customarily Consumed (RACC)

Food GroupsFood Group Equivalent MinimumAdded Sugar LimitSodium LimitSaturated Fat Limit
Grains3/4 oz whole-grain equivalent5% DV (2.5 g)10% DV (230 mg)5% DV (1 g)
Dairy3/4 cup equivalent5% DV (2.5 g)10% DV (230 mg)10% DV (2 g)
Vegetable1/2 cup equivalent0% DV (0 g)10% DV (230 mg)5% DV (1 g)
Fruit product1/2 cup equivalent0% DV (0 g)10% DV (230 mg)5% DV (1 g)
Food Groups/Proteins (examples)Food Group Equivalent MinimumAdded Sugar LimitSodium LimitSaturated Fat Limit
Game meat1 ½ oz equivalent0% DV10% DV10% DV
Seafood1 oz equivalent0% DV10% DV10% DV
Nuts and seeds1 oz equivalent0% DV10% DV5% DV*

* Excluding saturated fat derived from nuts and seeds

Food Groups/Oils (examples)Food Group Equivalent MinimumAdded Sugar LimitSodium LimitSaturated Fat Limit
100% OilN/A0% DV0% DV20% of total fat
Oil-based SpreadsN/A0% DV5% DV20% of total fat
Oil-based Dressing*N/A2% DV5% DV20% of total fat

* Must contain at least 30% oil and saturated fat level of the oil must be ≤ 20 percent of total fat

Sample FoodsIndividual foodMixed productMeal
Amount of food groups required6-oz yogurt
(1 food group equivalent)*
1/8 cup dried fruit and 1/4 oz nuts
(At least 1/2 food group equivalent each from 2 different food groups)
1 oz salmon, 1/2 cup green beans, 3/4 oz brown rice
(At least 1 food group equivalent each from 3 different food groups)
Nutrients to Limit (no more than)**2 g saturated fat
230 mg sodium
2.5 g added sugar
1 g saturated fat***
230 mg sodium
0 g added sugar
4 g saturated fat
690 mg sodium
2.5 g added sugar

* A food group equivalent is the amount of a food group required
** Amounts based on percentage of the Daily Value for that nutrient
*** Saturated fat from nuts/seeds does not contribute to limit

“Healthy” symbol

Other than the above, the FDA has begun to conduct research on a symbol that industry can voluntarily use to label food products that meet the proposed “healthy” definition. Symbols may be particularly helpful for those with lower nutrition knowledge to identify foods that can be the foundation of a healthy eating pattern. The results of the surveys were published twice in May 2021 and March 2022 through notices in the Federal Register.
Public comments on this issue are expected to be solicited, so keep an eye on the future move on the revision.

[the draft “healthy” symbols]


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