The US government’s Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has just proposed a new definition of what is healthy in food. The new meaning will apply to information that appears on nutrition labels for processed foods. To give two examples of what goes in and out of this definition, salmon and avocado are now considered healthy foods when they were previously not considered healthy because of their high fat content and grains with added sugars. stop thinking of yourself that way.
In addition, the FDA announced that it is developing a graphic symbol that manufacturers of processed foods can use to mark their products as healthy when they meet new requirements set by the government, and a new nutrition label that must be on the front and not , as it is now, behind or on the side. The White House announced that the new food system proposed by the FDA would be communicated on food through symbols that are easily recognizable by consumers, such as a “star rating or traffic light system.”
The new US Food Information System addresses two aspects. On the one hand, new healthy foods must contain a “significant” amount of nutrients from at least one of the groups or subgroups recommended by the Dietary Guidelines, such as fruits, vegetables or dairy products. And in addition, they must meet the required limits for saturated fat, sodium (salt) and added sugars; therefore, white bread cannot be considered healthy in this new guideline either. For the professor of medicine and public health at the University of Navarre, Mayra Bess Rastrolo, this update “is a step forward”. “And the fact that added sugars are included is very favorable, something that Nutri-Score, the system we have in Spain, does not do,” adds Bess Rastrolo, an expert in nutritional epidemiology.
In Spain and under Community regulations, nutritional information has been mandatory for processed foods since 2011 and must include the list of ingredients and the nutritional information table. But the same European Commission regulation recognized that not all people can understand this label well, so it proposed that it be accompanied by information on the front of the food product in an additional and voluntary way. And this is what Spain has done with the Nutri-Score system, which has been in force since 2021 and which is one of those that exists to transfer information about whether processed food is healthy or not.
The Nutri-Score is an algorithm that gives each rated product a score from 1 to 5. Each score is associated with a color, from dark green to red, and each of those colors with a letter, from A to E. The higher the score, the the lower the nutritional value of the product, because the algorithm adds points when it contains saturated fat, salt, sugars or more calories, and subtracts points for the percentage of fruits and vegetables, vegetable oils such as olive or soy and the contribution of vitamins and fiber.
Better than Nutri-Score
Another aspect in which the US proposal improves Nutri-Score, according to Bess Rastrolo, is that the US system takes into account the type of food when establishing nutritional limits: “That’s why the problem with Nutri-Score arose. oil which, being 100% fat, had a very poor rating. In the US proposal, the maximum fat limit is a function of the type of food in question. This allows you to adapt it much better”.
The FDA’s statement announcing the new meaning of healthy food addresses the health effects of those that are not. “More than 80% of people in the United States do not consume enough fruits, vegetables, and dairy products. And most of them consume excessive amounts of added sugars, saturated fat and sodium. According to the US government’s own data, “Overweight and obesity, which are associated with poor diet and physical activity behaviors, are the leading contributors to chronic disease in the United States. Obesity increases the risk of chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, and certain cancers, and is also associated with an increased risk of all-cause mortality.
According to the data provided by the FDA itself when presenting the new health label, “in 2019, 42% of adolescents and 39% of adults reported eating fruit less than once a day, while 41% of teenagers and 21% of adults said they eat vegetables less than once a day. And that’s what the US government wants to change. “The step they’ve taken is positive,” says Bess Rastrolo, “because there’s evidence that the right nutritional information helps change shopping habits, but I think more than information about what’s healthy, consumers need information about what it is not, because they do, for example, the food labels in Chile”. In this country, the nutrition information for processed foods is based on four seals that must be placed on foods that exceed the established limit as healthy: high in sugars, high in saturated fat, high in sodium, high in calories.
The FDA released its first definition of healthy foods in 1994, but dietary guidelines have since changed along with advances in nutritional research. In 2016, the US Food and Drug Administration began the process of updating what is considered healthy in food, which is now culminating. But that work had a hiatus because, during Donald Trump’s presidency, the committee responsible for setting the nation’s dietary guidelines was barred from looking at the health effects of red meat, salt and ultra-processed foods. Joe Biden’s administration, by contrast, has reactivated the scientific adequacy of nutrition labels that now reach American consumers.
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