The FDA has a big job ahead. Recently the agency undertook the task of redefining the word ‘healthy’ as it pertains to food labels. Under current guidelines, a food item can be labeled ‘healthy’ if it meets the specific criteria for total fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol, and other nutrients as well. In general, total fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol all need to be on the low side.
That’s good news for many food manufacturers. If you read food labels at all I’m sure you’ve seen breakfast cereals, reduced-fat cream soups, granola bars, crackers or any other number of items marked as ‘healthy’ or ‘healthier’, while also containing significant amounts of sugar, salt, or other additives. Yet other foods that are nourishing and nutrient-dense cannot be labeled ‘healthy’ under the current guidelines – things like almonds, walnuts, avocados . . .
Wait, what? I thought those were healthy.
Exactly! They can be a healthy choice. That is why it’s time the FDA looks at it. It all stems from a case involving KIND granola bars and the use of the term ‘healthy’ on their food labels. You can read more about it here.
I’m glad the FDA is looking in to this, but trying to define which foods are healthy and which are not isn’t an easy task. Much of it is subject to opinion, not easily measured, and it changes from food to food and person to person depending on their own individual health needs. Plus, our diet isn’t made up of only one food, but rather a variety of foods, all working together to keep us nourished and healthy.
The truth is, friends, we can’t fully depend on the government, and certainly not food manufacturers, to tell us what is good for us and what’s not. We have a brain . . . we have common sense . . . and we have critical thinking and analytical skills. Let’s put them to use, gather information, and then make decisions for our own health and what we put into our bodies. Recommendations from the government are part of that. But let’s face it, food manufacturers want to sell you food – and labels are a large part of their marketing strategy.
It’s confusing, I know; so what can you, the consumer, do?
- Read your food labels. Know what is in your food and don’t depend on the food manufacturer to tell you it’s a healthy choice. Educate yourself about labels and nutrition and make that decision yourself. Seek out advice from a registered dietitian if you have questions.
- Disregard ‘healthy’ claims on food labels. Remember, food manufacturers want you to buy their product and this is part of their marketing. Read and interpret the label for yourself.
- Keep in mind that ‘healthy’ does not mean unlimited quantities. We still need to pay attention to hunger cues and the needs of our bodies. Overdoing it on a product deemed ‘healthy’ will not make it any healthier. In fact, it’s an unhealthy behavior. Think about it. Avocados are filled with healthy fats and every dietitian I know would say they are healthy. But if all you eat is avocados, well . . . your body needs more than just avocados. In that case, they’re not always a healthy choice for you because your body needs nutrients from a variety of food sources, not just one.
- Instead of asking if a product is healthy, ask yourself if it can be part of a healthy, nourishing diet for you right now. Think about ‘healthy’ as it relates to your whole diet, not just individual foods.