FDA Is Redefining The Term 'Healthy' On Food Labels : The Salt Last year, the FDA told the maker of Kind bars some of its nut-filled snacks couldn't be labeled as "healthy." Now the agency is rethinking what healthy means, amid evolving science on fat and sugar.
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FDA Is Redefining The Term 'Healthy' On Food Labels

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FDA Is Redefining The Term 'Healthy' On Food Labels

FDA Is Redefining The Term 'Healthy' On Food Labels

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And the Food and Drug Administration is in the process of redefining what counts as a healthy food. The FDA is asking the public to weigh in on a new definition which will help determine whether food companies can label their products as healthy. NPR's Allison Aubrey reports that as nutrition science has evolved, a modern definition is overdue.

ALLISON AUBREY, BYLINE: The last time the Food and Drug Administration took a stab at defining what counts as a healthy food product was in 1994. Back then, this was one of the most popular snack foods on the market.

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UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Attention shoppers. SnackWells' cream sandwich cookies have just arrived in aisle three.

AUBREY: SnackWells were positioned as a low-fat alternative to fattier treats.

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UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: What a creamy way to cut the fat.

AUBREY: The message was low fat was better for you. The FDA's Douglas Balentine says it reflected the thinking of the day.

DOUGLAS BALENTINE: Yes. Back then, low fat was a key component so that the dietary guidelines was advising diets be low in total fat.

AUBREY: But the fat-free boom has come and gone, and now it's recognized that some fats are good for us. We need them.

BALENTINE: Today, we're now looking at the quality of fat, rather than the amount of fat.

AUBREY: Take for instance nuts - such as almonds and walnuts. They're quite high in fat, but now we're encouraged to eat them.

BALENTINE: Dietary guidelines recommends that consumers include nuts and seeds, and nuts naturally contain quite a bit of healthy fats.

AUBREY: Given this new thinking, shouldn't some snacks that contain a lot of nuts be allowed to be labeled as healthy? The makers of Kind bars think so. Under the old rule, they didn't make the cut, but this year, the company petitioned the FDA to begin this process of redefining healthy. The modernized definition is also likely to address sugar content, given all of the newer evidence linking excessive sugar to heart disease and obesity.

BALENTINE: Our thinking about sugars has changed, so I would think the amount of sugar is something that we will have to take into account.

AUBREY: This may also work in favor of snacks such as Kind bars because they don't have much sugar. Now, in an ideal world, we wouldn't need labels to tell us what foods are healthier. People wouldn't eat so much processed food. They just know that a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains is healthier. But this is not the world we're living in. Balentine says Americans buy lots of packaged foods.

BALENTINE: Well, you know, the typical consumer makes a purchase decision in about three to five seconds.

AUBREY: And he says an up to date label will give people a quick way to make healthier choices. Allison Aubrey, NPR News.

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