The “Healthy” Food Label is Changing

Food labels and wrappers are a carefully crafted blend of art and science. The colorful, attention-grabbing packages are designed to get shoppers to pick them off the store shelves, while the nutrition panel gives them full disclosure of what the food product contains.

Despite efforts to simplify and clarify, terms frequently used on food labels can be confusing, and it can be difficult to define what they truly mean. If you’re looking for a healthy treat, does a “healthy” label on the front of the packaging really mean it’s the best choice for you? The FDA recently announced they want help defining the term “healthy” on food labels, saying that much of our nutritional knowledge has changed in recent years.

Currently, terms like “healthy,” “low in fat,” “good source,” or “natural” may appear on the front of food packaging as companies try to differentiate themselves from their competitors, but are not clearly defined or regulated by the FDA. Therefore, the meaning of these terms can vary greatly. Check out our Easy Guide to Food Labels for more on this.

Our understanding of things like fats and sugars is changing. We now know that fat free isn’t necessarily the way to be, and that there are healthy fats to incorporate into our diets. We also know that many products that seem healthy contain a great deal of sugar. That’s why the FDA began soliciting feedback on how to define use of the term “healthy” in September. The agency is asking for public input on a range of questions about what “healthy” should mean from a nutrition perspective and how we understand and use “healthy” food label claims.

The Nutrition Labeling and Education Act of 1990 dramatically changed how food companies labeled products. The measure was created to help clear up any confusion about the nutritional content of the food on grocery shelves. It was also designed to help people make healthier food choices by providing more detail.

By May 2017, restaurants and other retail establishments will also be required to carry nutrition and calorie information on their menus so customers can make the best choices for their dietary needs.

But the front-of-the-pack terms can be subjective and potentially confusing. FDA officials say while they are working on the “healthy” claim, other label claims are also being reviewed to see how they might be updated. Their goal is to give people the best tools and information about the foods they choose in an effort to improve public health.

Most of us are busy, and we often spend just a few seconds making food purchase decisions. Experts say that having uniform definitions for common food labels will help Americans make better and healthier food buying decisions. Check back to the blog for updates on new food label definitions.

What do you think about the “healthy” food label? What does the term “healthy” mean to you? Let us know in the comments.