Good news for smart snackers: the FDA is re-evaluating its stance on the word healthy. As current regulation stands, a healthy snack is one with no more than 3g total fat or 1g saturated fat per serving. That rules out basically anything with nuts, nut butter, avocados, heart-healthy oils, seeds, coconut, and even higher-fat yogurts.
The issue came up last March, when the FDA issued a letter to the KIND brand, asking them to remove the term healthy from a few of their fruit-and-nut-packed bars that contained more fat and saturated fat than the FDA’s definition allowed.
KIND proceeded to investigate, learning that the current FDA regulation discriminated against nutrient-dense foods like nuts, salmon, and avocados, and had basically created incentive for companies to produce sugar-loaded snacks (think fat-free cookies, low-fat pudding, low-fat pastries, and frost-coated flakes) that were void of all nutrients to lower calories and fat so that they could bear the claim.
KIND, with the help of some of the nation’s leading experts in public health and nutrition, petitioned the FDA, asking for a re-evaluation of the regulation. After reviewing the situation, the FDA says it is now comfortable allowing the KIND brand to return the phrase "healthy" to its labels.
At one point in time, low-fat meant healthy to us. Americans made a habit some 20 to 30 years ago of loading up on fat-free carbs and sugar-filled snacks in an attempt to be satisfied. And guess what? We weren’t satisfied. Handfuls turned into entire bags as the numbers on the scale continued to increase. But now, the focus has shifted towards more filling, heart-healthy fat filled foods (see our Healthy Cook's Guide to Fat here).
Now, after 20 years, the FDA is finally re-evaluating the definition of "healthy," as they plan to ask the public as well as food experts for comment on what the new, more modern definition of healthy should be. While the process could take years to complete, it’s a start.
Remember: a claim on a label helps sell food. It's often more about marketing than it is about health. Look at the ingredient list, and see what the product is really all about. Is it packed with nuts, whole grains, protein, fiber, and heart-healthy fats? Or is it full of refined flour and sugar? Trust your knowledge and instinct. Not the label.
Related: Make Your Own Healthy Snack Bars