The government Wednesday issued a definition for “healthy” foods that will almost certainly force manufacturers to either change the names or ingredients of many products.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration said foods labeled “healthy” must be low in fat, saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium. The agency said a “healthy” food must also contain at least 10% of the recommended daily value of either Vitamin A, Vitamin C, iron, calcium, protein or fiber.
The rules are stricter for frozen dinners, which must contain 10% of three nutrients.
The rules are a victory for consumer organizations that had pushed for inclusion of vitamins, iron and other nutrients. The FDA last year proposed rules that would have defined “healthy” as a low-fat, low-sodium, low-cholesterol food. Under that narrow definition, consumer organizations argued, a jelly bean could be considered healthy.
Even as the rules were issued, though, some consumer organizations said they would like revisions lowering fat to two grams per serving from three grams.
“Food technology has really progressed to where that is possible,” said Bonnie Liebman, nutrition director at the Washington-based Center for Science in the Public Interest.
Producers of so-called healthy foods could not be reached for comment Wednesday. But a random review of labels suggests that they face some challenges.
Thomas L. Lipton Inc.'s Healthy Sensation salad dressing, for example, contains no protein or vitamins, according to the label on its Ranch flavor dressing. Kraft General Foods’ Budget Light and Healthy Beef Pot Roast dinner is over the low-sodium limit of 480 milligrams.
F. Edward Scarbrough, director of the FDA’s food labeling office, said previously that some of Conagra’s Healthy Choice products would probably require reformulation.
In an interview earlier this week, food industry executives said lowering sodium poses the biggest challenge because it helps boost the flavor of prepared foods.
Marc Lagrois, product manager for Tyson’s Healthy Portion frozen dinner line, said sodium in most dinners exceeds 480 milligrams.
“If it’s just a matter of 100 milligrams of sodium, I think we could easily reformulate,” he said.
The rules take effect for new products Monday. Existing products will have at least a year to meet the requirements.
Other FDA food label reforms take effect Sunday. They require manufacturers of processed foods to use uniform nutritional labels containing information on fat, sodium, protein and other nutrients and to meet strict definitions for 11 descriptive terms, such as “fat-free” and “low-sodium.”