The Very Definition Of 'Healthy' May Soon Be Changing

by Kate Ryan
Trent Lanz

The switch has been flipped on the standard American diet so many times that nobody knows which way is up anymore.

Just think about the fact that carb-loaded diets used to be all the rage, and not so long ago, cocaine was not only legal but encouraged by doctors.

Now the US Food and Drug Administration is trying to get a handle on the American health epidemic by re-examining the very definition of "healthy" foods. In a statement, the FDA told the Wall Street Journal,

We believe now is an opportune time to reevaluate regulations concerning nutrient content claims, generally, including the term 'healthy.'

So, what is considered healthy anyway? It could take the FDA several years to come to a definitive conclusion. If approved, one bill in Congress could make this issue a priority and help speed along the process -- but that's a big "if."

The FDA first used the term "healthy" back in 1994, but walking down any supermarket aisle will tell you a lot has changed since then.

Two decades ago, diet enemy number one was fat, though the list of problem ingredients has since expanded to include sugar, gluten and trans fats, to name a few. So, by outdated standards, you're considered better off eating a sugary bowl of cereal than indulging in God's wonder fruit, the avocado. What were we thinking?

This battle over healthy fats, unhealthy fats, sugar content and food labeling landed Kind LLC in the middle of the debate. Apparently, last year the FDA told them to remove "healthy" from its granola bar labels because of the relatively high fat content. Kind's Chief Executive Daniel Lubetzky told the Wall Street Journal,

We very much hope the FDA will change the definition of healthy, so that you don't end up in a silly situation where a toaster pastry or sugary cereal can be considered healthy and a piece of salmon or bunch of almonds cannot.

Silly indeed. The FDA has since dropped the case against Kind bars, but that doesn't get us any closer to knowing what the heck a healthy granola bar -- or any processed food item for that matter -- actually looks like. Sharon Zarabi, a nutritionist from the Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, may have the most practical answer to this problem. She said,

Why not just go back to eating clean and simple? Single-ingredient foods that are not bound together by sugar, and not enhanced with ingredients we cannot pronounce. Remember when fruits and vegetables were the snack Mom used to put in our lunch box and our only source of calories -- aka fuel?

In other words, stick to the edges of the store where the food has a limited shelf life and avoid packaged crap as often as you can. Feel free to copy and paste that definition if you want, FDA.

Citations: FDA to Re-examine What Makes a Food 'Healthy' (US News)