What Is Healthy?

Consumers are increasingly becoming more health conscious than ever before. They are examining nutrition labels and taking the time to learn about what is going in to their bodies. Now is the time for food labeling professionals to clarify any questions and provide complete product transparency. Consumers have trusted the FDA and USDA to put forth the most important information.  It is time for industry experts to work together to find the best way to implement the latest regulations.

Three of the most common health claims that consumers question are healthy, organic, and low sodium. What do these really mean? Who decides what qualifies as healthy?  How low does the sodium have to be to receive the “low sodium” stamp of approval? With the new regulations, industry professionals have the unique opportunity to explain themselves and be clear about what claims are important for health today.  

“The current regulations allow for boxed sugary cereal to claim being healthy but not avocados.”

What is “Healthy”

According to Today’s Dietitian, and the new guidelines released by the FDA, manufacturers can claim their product is “healthy” if they meet any of the following criteria:

  • Their products aren’t low in total fat but have a fat composition of mostly monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids, and include the amounts of those fatty acids on the Nutrition Facts label
  • They contain at least 10% DV per reference amount customarily consumed for potassium or vitamin D and include these amounts on the Nutrition Facts Label

Opinions and dietary recommendations have shifted and so has the standard of health. The FDA asked for feedback on what they should include in the future criteria and are currently working on putting together a new definition. One of the biggest pieces of feedback was the lack of sugar amounts in the criteria for health. The current regulations allow for boxed sugary cereal to claim being healthy but not avocados.

Additionally, many consumers have suggested that importance should be shifted from Vitamin A and C to Potassium and Vitamin D. Consumers would also like to see a shift from amounts of fat to type of fat since there is an emphasis on good and bad fats in the news. Consumers who ultimately want to be healthy depend on industry experts to clarify these nutrition claims.

What is “Organic”

The USDA has very strict requirements when using the “organic” claim. These include:

To make the organic claim for the product or any of its ingredients, the final product has to be certified. They have to go through an approval process through the USDA in order to put “organic” anywhere on the box. If the product is not certified, “organic” cannot be on the main display panel or use the official USDA organic seal on the packaging. However, they can identify organic ingredients and their percentages on the nutrition label.

Most organic products will go through the approval process so that they can use the official USDA organic logo and their consumers can trust their product.

What is “Low Sodium”

Low Sodium, Low Sugar, Low Fat: all of these things sound great but what do they really mean? Based on the FDA guidelines, here is when they can be used:

  • Low Sodium – 140 mg or less per Reference Amounts Customarily Consumed (RACC). Meals and main dishes: 140 mg or less per 100g.
  • Low Sugar – Not defined and may not be used. However, sugar free means less than 0.5g sugars per RACC and per labeled serving. Contains no ingredient that is a sugar or generally understood to contain sugar.
  • Low Fat – 3g or less per RACC. Meals and main dishes: 3g or less per 100g and not more than 30% of calories from fat.

When consumers  see “low” they automatically assume that it means healthier and better for you. Consumers have to be sure to compare the numbers to serving size and the RACC so they are making the most informed decision.


Once again, the FDA has pushed back the compliance date for the new regulations. We may not be seeing the new labels and information until January of 2020. Until then, it is imperative for labeling executives  to allow for open communication with their consumers and to be as transparent as possible during these uncertain times.

The topic of what is healthy as well as other food labeling regulations will be covered and explored at the 5th Annual Food Labeling: Evolving Regulatory Compliance Conference from January 29th-30th in Arlington, VA. Click here to learn more.