Strategic advice for the food and beverage industry

“Healthy” can mean fat

Toaster pastry 2It’s another blow against the out-of-date science that meant that nuts, avocado and salmon couldn’t be described as “healthy”.

The US Food & Drug Administration (FDA) has announced that it will re-think its definition of the word “healthy”.

Since 1994, FDA regulations have required that the term “healthy” is used only to describe foods, with the exception of fish and meat, that contain 3g or less of total fat and 1g or less of saturated fat per serving.

Fish and meat were required to have 5g or less of total fat and 2g or less of saturated fat per serving.

What that meant was that salmon could never claim on the label or in advertising to be “healthy” – as it contains 22g of total fat per serving and 4g of saturated fat.

Yet the fat in salmon – omega-3s – is one that is deficient in most people’s diets and has health benefits supported by a mountain of scientific evidence. Salmon is also a source of high-quality, easily-digestible protein.

However, the same regulation allows items like fat-free chocolate pudding, some sugary cereals and low-fat toaster pastries to carry the designation “healthy”.

It’s just one of the many disastrous results from the last 40 years’ obsession with reducing fat in foods – an obsession which we now know was misplaced and based on faulty science.

This old regulation came into the spotlight in March 2015, when the FDA sent a warning letter to snack bar maker Kind, telling the company that at least four of its Kind bars were in violation of labeling rules. Kind uses nuts as one of its main ingredients and had made the mistake of imagining that it could thus describe its products as healthy (after all, nuts are proven to have a beneficial effect in reducing your risk of cardiovascular disease).

Kind changed its labels, but also petitioned the FDA to update its rules about the term healthy to reflect the latest science.

Having reviewed the evidence, the FDA has reversed its original decision and Kind can start to say “healthy” again.

America might be moving on, but in most of Europe dietary guidelines and health professionals remain locked in a the low-fat-is-best dark ages – where a fisherman still couldn’t sell his salmon as “healthy”.

The point of science is that it as it changes it enables us to improve our understanding of the world and change our views on what we should and shouldn’t be doing.

The rising tide of overweight in Europe won’t be turned by more labeling, by healthy eating campaigns or taxes on the food industry (these have all been tried and failed again and again). The biggest step will be when we start to give people science-based, realistic information about healthy food and when Europe’s health professionals and academics have as much courage as the FDA to admit that, “the evidence has changed, so what I believe must change”.

Posted in Editorial, Mainsite

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