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What’s healthy? FDA tackles notoriously difficult definition

Media Contact

Jeff Tyson

The Food and Drug Administration has proposed a new system and set of guidelines for labeling food packages as “healthy,” sparking debate about what constitutes healthy food and questions around whether manufacturers and consumers will get behind the proposal.

Adrienne Bitar is an expert in the history and culture of American food and the author of “Diet and the Disease of Civilization” — the first full length study of diet books. Bitar says the FDA is taking on a difficult task in attempting to define and regulate the term “healthy.”

Bitar says:

“The term ‘healthy’ is notoriously difficult to define, much less regulate. Healthy is not a neutral one-size-fits-all concept, but a fraught term that has long been invoked to make moral judgments between good and bad, wholesome and corrupt, and healthy and unhealthy. 

“Yet the FDA recently proposed to regulate the term ‘healthy’ by advocating for balance: to be labelled ‘healthy,’ foods will need to have some amount of its ingredients derived from one food group recommended by the dietary guidelines such as dairy or vegetables. Hopefully, this regulation will cut through marketing attempts to pass off fortified or ultra-processed foods as healthy.”

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