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It may become harder to find packaged foods labeled “healthy” on your grocery shelves in the future if a Food and Drug Administration (FDA) proposal to tighten its labeling criteria becomes the rule. And the products you do find with the label may actually be good for you.

The FDA’s proposal, which was announced in September 2022, would prevent food manufacturers from using the “healthy” label on a product if it contains more than 2.5 grams of sugar (though this can vary depending on the food) and 230 mg of sodium per serving. This proposal also includes limits on saturated fats, depending on the food.

“The old rule was really outdated — you could create any kind of Frankenstein food that met the nutrient criteria and label it as healthy,” cardiologist ­Dariush Mozaffarian, MD, MPH, tells the New York Times. “This is a major advance.”

Many sugary cereals, white breads, sweetened yogurts, and granola bars are among the estimated 5 percent of packaged foods now marketed as healthy that would lose the designation under the proposed rules.

Fare currently considered unhealthy because of its high fat content — avocados, nuts and seeds, fatty fish, and some oils — would qualify for the “healthy” label under the new guidelines.

Manufacturers are not obligated to label their products, however, a fact that may lead consumers to assume anything unlabeled is to be avoided, says Peter Lurie, MD, MPH, president and executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

“It’s not really helpful in that respect,” he notes. “It allows the industry to decide what to convey to the consumer, as opposed to providing the consumer with what they would clearly want.”

Craig Cox
Craig Cox

Craig Cox is an Experience Life deputy editor who explores the joys and challenges of healthy aging.

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