Welcome back guest poster Amy Hoogervorst. She shares stories of  Faith & Sweat. You loved her take on sugar, and she’s back with her take on the FDA’s redefinition of  “healthy”. We read the same Wall Street Journal article and offer our individual take away(s). Enjoy Amy’s take on the article this morning, and my take on her blog. 

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What does “healthy” mean to you?

Or to your neighbor with a nut allergy? Or to your son’s baseball coach who drinks sports drinks like water? Or to the manufacturers of those snacks that beckon in the checkout line?


The FDA is about to undertake the process of updating the definition of “healthy” as it relates to nutrient content claims, so that foods can be labeled appropriately based on updated science and understanding. Under current guidelines, established in 1994, an avocado isn’t healthy because of its fat content. A low-fat Pop Tart is.

Everyone will be able to offer input in the re-defining process, but it could take some time. It took six years for the agency to agree on a definition for gluten-free foods, and the FDA never has defined the term “natural.”

Why not just keep it simple to help us know what is best to put in our shopping basket? (Except that simple is never simple for the government.)

These guidelines would keep it simple, while we’re waiting for updates, and beyond:

  • Buy fresh. Buy local. Buy whole, minimally processed and unprocessed foods that are as close to their original source as possible.. Eat those if you’re striving for “healthy” and “natural.”
  • Ban marketers’ ability to use the term “healthy” on a label.  It’s a subjective term, used best for comparisons. What is healthy for one person may not be healthy to another. Ever met anyone with an allergy to dairy? Or whole wheat? Or nuts?
  • Label a food “natural” only if it grows in dirt or water, has been minimally processed, and contains no added sugars, sodium or preservatives. Extra bonus for conforming to Non-GMO Project standards. http://www.nongmoproject.org/

The current definition for “healthy” and guidelines for using it as a nutrient content claim were established in 1994, when the country was abuzz with the benefits of “heart healthy” low-fat diets. The FDA focused then and since on defining healthy foods as those who fell below a threshold in fat, saturated fat, sodium, and cholesterol. Those with beneficial nutrients like Vitamin C or calcium also could make a “healthy” claim. Under those guidelines, healthy fats such as avocado, almonds, and salmon currently are considered unhealthy because of their fat content, while Frosted Flakes and low-fat Pop Tarts could carry a “healthy” nutrient claim.

Since 1994, our nutrition knowledge has evolved. Its seems that every week a new study has been published, yet the FDA guidelines haven’t kept up. Studies also have been refuting long-held assumptions about fats.

Ancel Keys, an American scientist considered the father of the Mediterranean Diet, in 1958 published his Seven Countries Study, in which he concluded that the high rates of heart disease in those countries was due to their high-fat diets. But Keys selectively left out results from 15 other countries that did not support his theory.

Despite criticism then and criticism now, Keys’ theory took off, and in 1961 he was featured on the cover of TIME magazine. The U.S. government changed its recommendations to promote a low-fat diet, particularly against animal fats. Butter and lard fell out of favor, with plastic fake margarines and spreads being sold to wild acclaim.

Keys lived to be 100, so one could argue that his Mediterranean diet of fruits, vegetables, lean protein, bread, pasta, olive oil and wine served him well. But the U.S., instead of examining healthy fats and promoting those, went full tilt into the low-fat, no-fat arena. We replaced fats with sugar-laden, processed foods, and our waistlines grew accordingly. Heart disease, obesity and Type 2 diabetes have run amok.

We hardly know who or what to believe, which is why the FDA thinks it’s time to enter the 21st century with a new definition. It won’t be simple.

The FDA announced its plans after KIND LLC, makers of the KIND fruit-and-nut bars and snacks, sparked a campaign. The FDA had issued a complaint against KIND for the way it marketed its products, many of which contain higher levels of saturated fats than current recommendations allow for “healthy” products, because of their nut content.

Marketers today tout their products with various labels – “whole grain,” “antioxidant,” “fair trade,” “gluten free,” and “natural” – that largely are meaningless in terms of nutritional value.

A gluten-free cookie still is a cookie, with sugar, just no gluten. But we are swayed by the packaging and the buzzwords, as a 2014 University of Houston study showed. The Nutrition Facts panels do little to counter the buzzwords, the study showed.

So we wait, for our chance to say what is healthy, for a new definition.

Until then, would someone please pass the butter?


Amy is a coach, writer and entrepreneur focusing on health, wellness, mindset and stories. She’s also an aspiring foodie. Connect with her at amyhoogervorst.com, on Twitter @amyhoogervorst, or join the conversation at her free Facebook group https://www.facebook.com/groups/faithandsweatcommunity/

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