If you browsed the central aisles of your grocery store and only looked at the claims made on nutrition labels, it would seem like every packaged food could be considered “healthy.” Sugary cereals boast having “dozens of essential vitamins and minerals,” and potato chips are labeled “gluten-free,” both of which can mislead shoppers into believing they are healthy choices. While there are plenty of healthy options in the center aisles, they can be more difficult to identify due to current FDA regulation of nutrient content claims.
Stay up to date on what healthy means now.
KIND has teamed up with a group of leading health and nutrition experts in filing a Citizen Petition this morning, urging the FDA to update current nutrient content claim regulation. The petition address the problem with current regulation, which emphasizes nutrient quanity in a product instead of overall food quality, which the petition says can create consumer confusion.
The petition urges the FDA to only allow nutrient claims for products containing a meaningful amount of a health-promoting food—think vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, or nuts. For example, this would mean a cereal product with an ingredient list full of whole grains and whole fruit-based sugars would be able to make more health claims than a cereal product full of added sugars and mostly refined grains—even if it is fortified with essential nutrients. The petition asks for better regulation of fortified foods as well to ensure food companies are fortifying within FDA guidelines.
“Dressing up empty calorie products by emphasizing a singular nutrient, like protein or fiber, versus the overall quality of the food is unfair to consumers,” KIND Founder & CEO Daniel Lubetzky said in a press release. “By bringing greater rigor to the use of nutrient claims, FDA can increase label transparency and help people better identify foods that contribute to a healthy diet, which KIND has long advocated for.”
In an email conversation with Cooking Light, Lubetzky said nutrient claims on food packaging are often abused on empty calorie foods. Back in 2015, the KIND team urged the FDA to reshape their ideas on how “healthy” could be used on food labels.
“At the time, the ‘healthy’ definition discriminated against good-for-you fats found in foods like nuts, salmon, and avocados, but the term could be used on items like fat-free chocolate pudding,” Lubetzky said.
The FDA is currently in the process of redefining ‘healthy,’ as research shows the benefits of heart-healthy fats on our overall health. The petition seeks to help the FDA in their mission to do so.
The petition urges for an amendment to current regulations that would include disclosure levels for added sugars and trans fat while excluding disclosure levels for total fat and cholesterol. It then goes even farther, asking for revision of current regulation to disqualify foods, other than meal or main dish products, contributing more than 25 percent of the daily value for saturated fat, sodium, or added sugar or more than 1 gram of trans fat from bearing nutrient content claims.
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A recent survey conducted by the American Heart Association showed 95 percent of Americans sometimes or always look for healthy food choices when grocery shopping, but only 28 percent find it easy to decipher which products are actually healthy. If one is unsure how to properly read a nutrition label, it can be easy to try to identify healthy choices based on the front of food packaging alone and end up unintentionally making poor food choices.
“I’m pleased to support the petition,” said Dr. David Katz MD, MPH and founding director of the Yale University Prevention Ressearch Center, who is a co-signatory of the petition. “Amending the nutrient content claim regulation to ensure that the majority of a product is made from a genuinely nutritious food source will have a lasting impact on public health.”
KIND is no stranger to the spotlight, as the company has been advocating for transparency in nutrition labels for years. KIND was one the first food producers to share added sugar content in their products on labels, which is now being required of all food and beverage companies by the FDA.
“The ideal outcome is that FDA updates a regulation that was implemented in the 1990s,” said Stephanie Csaszar RD and Health & Wellness Expert at KIND. “If our petition is adopted, empty-calorie products would be banned from using nutrient content claims, or at the very least, required to disclose “negative nutrients,” such as added sugar and trans fat.”
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