The US food agency has proposed packaged-food products would need to adhere to limits on fat, sugar and sodium to carry ‘healthy’ labels.
On the heels of this week’s new White House strategy plan on nutrition, health and food security, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said it proposes updating the healthy criteria to “better account for how all the nutrients in various food groups contribute and may work synergistically to create healthy dietary patterns and improve health”.
With improving the well-being of Americans and cutting diseases related to consumption of unhealthy foods at the heart of the government strategy, the FDA said more foods would be “eligible” to be classed as healthy if they are consistent with the country’s national dietary guidelines.
Products would need to contain a “meaningful amount” of at least one group or sub-segment featured in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans compiled by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). They include fruit and vegetables, grains, low or non-fat dairy, “lean” meats and poultry, seafood and unsaturated vegetable oils. Consumers are encouraged to lower their intake of red and processed meats, sugar-sweetened food and drinks, and refined grains.
Under the proposals, products would also need to “adhere to specific limits” for saturated fat, sodium and added sugars based on the Daily Value (DV) recommended percentage consumption levels. For example, 10% is the DV for sodium, equating to 230 milligrams per serving, the FDA said.
The Dietary Guidelines 2020-25 set out recommendations to pursue a healthy diet from an early age, encouraging consumers to seek out “nutrient-dense” foods and beverages, and limit foods high in fat, sodium and sugar (HFSS), and also to limit consumption of alcoholic drinks.
President Biden outlined the strategy this week, with a plan develop a front-of-pack labelling system.
The key goal is to reduce sodium and salt consumption with longer-term voluntary targets for the food manufacturing industry. The White House said it will work with the FDA to devise a front-of-pack (FOP) scheme that will “empower” consumers to make healthy choices, especially for lesser-informed shoppers.
“FOP labelling systems – such as star ratings or traffic-light schemes – can promote equitable access to nutrition information and healthier choices and could also prompt industry to reformulate foods to be healthier,” the US government said.
“[The] FDA will conduct research and propose developing a standardised FOP labelling system for food packages to help consumers, particularly those with lower nutrition literacy, quickly and easily identify foods that are part of a healthy eating pattern.”
In a statement echoing the core plans, issued after the White House announcement, FDA Commissioner Robert Califf said: “Diet-related chronic diseases, such as cardiovascular disease and Type 2 diabetes, are the leading causes of death and disability in the US and disproportionately impact racial and ethnic minority groups.
“Today’s action is an important step toward accomplishing a number of nutrition-related priorities, which include empowering consumers with information to choose healthier diets and establishing healthy eating habits early. It can also result in a healthier food supply.”