A look at dietary guidelines and the regulation of label claims typically reveals anything but the latest thinking—especially to an industry forever driving the understanding of what constitutes healthy. Indeed, regulatory agencies, while being directive, are essentially reactive. By the time consensus is achieved and then put into law, that very consensus has begun to lose its legs.
The FDA’s September 2016 effort to update regulatory rules around the use of the term “healthy,” generally, and as a nutrient content claim in food labeling, was extended to close earlier this week on April 26, 2017. Industry trade groups Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN) and American Herbal Products Association (AHPA) posted comments before the close of the comment period. Both organizations recommend bringing the regulation in line with the latest nutrition research, including healthy eating patterns laid out in the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
CRN focused on beneficial nutrients that are under-consumed by many Americans, listing the nutrients and specifying percentages necessary to warrant the healthy claim—regardless of the nutrients naturally occurring presence in the food. “The 'healthy' nutrient content claim should be permitted for all foods that meet the nutrient contribution criterion (and other relevant requirements) whether the nutrients for which intake is encouraged are intrinsic to the foods or provided by fortification,” its comment read.
Additionally, CRN recognized the importance of updating health claims around fat—and not just based on the absence thereof. “We agree that the low-fat requirement should be updated to allow the use of the 'healthy' claim on labels for products that are not low in total fat but have a fat profile makeup of predominantly mono and polyunsaturated fats, as long as the products meet all other relevant conditions.”
AHPA focused its recommendations on herbs, spices and teas, suggesting that the ingredients potentially support recent health recommendations to reduce added sodium and sugars. "Emphasis should also be placed on replacement and shifts in food intake and eating patterns," it wrote. "Healthy options to reduce sodium intake could allow herb and spice blends or prepared foods that substitute herbs and spices for salt to bear a claim such as 'a healthy alternative to salt,'" AHPA's comments state. "The ability to make such claims might provide encouragement for food producers to reduce the sodium content in their products and would assist companies that market herbs and spices to help consumers learn more about these as salt substitutes."
Along the same line, AHPA suggested that unsweetened teas be recognized as an alternative to sugary drinks.
In a prepared statement, AHPA President Michael McGuffin said: "The current regulation reflects a dated view of nutrition science that is no longer considered to be in the best health interests of Americans."