Since 1990, FDA has permitted food companies to make “nutrient content claims.” Nutrient content claims are voluntary marketing claims about the amount of a recognized nutrient (including macronutrients such as fats and protein, and micronutrients such as vitamins and minerals) in a given serving of food. Food manufacturers are permitted to characterize their products as “high in,” “low in,” or “free” of various nutrients based on levels established by FDA with reference to levels of daily consumption (“daily values” or “DVs”). A nutrient content claim may be express (e.g., “low fat”) or implied, for example by claiming that a food contains an ingredient known to contain a particular nutrient (e.g., “high in oat bran” is an implied “good source of dietary fiber” claim).
FDA regards “healthy” as a special case of an “implied nutrient content claim”—one that simultaneously makes multiple implied claims about specific nutrients that are present or absent in significant quantities. That very fact is at the heart of the main regulatory problem with “healthy.” Most people regard the term “healthy” holistically—as, indeed, current nutritional science indicates that they should. Considering the sum total of a food’s ingredients and nutrients, what is its likely overall impact on the health of a normal person? FDA’s historical conception of “healthy” does not address this question directly, and as nutritional science evolves, may have fallen out of step with Americans’ health needs.
What Constitutes “Healthy”?
In all, FDA’s criterion for “healthy” (prior to modified guidance issued in 2016, discussed below) addresses four different nutrients to be limited: Having more than the specified amount of any one of 1) total fat, 2) saturated fat, 3) sodium, or 4) cholesterol rules out a “healthy” claim for a food.
Besides these four ceilings, there is one floor, and several ways to reach it. To qualify as “healthy,” a food must contain at least 10 percent daily value per serving of any one of six nutrients:| | | Next → | Single Page