Citizen Petition requests that FDA update its definition of “healthy.”

  • FDA has established qualifying criteria for foods to bear the claim that they are “healthy” (including related terms) (21 CFR 101.65(d)).  Among other factors, a “healthy” food generally must contain 3 grams or less of total fat per serving and 1 gram or less of saturated fat per serving.  (Fish and meat are required to contain 5 grams or less of total fat per serving and 2 grams or less of saturated fat per serving).
  • Snack bar producer, Kind, LLC has filed a Citizen Petition requesting that FDA revise and update its definition of the term, “healthy.”  The Citizen Petition argues that FDA’s “healthy” definition — which has remained the same since 1994 — is outdated and fails to take into account present-day scientific understanding about the health benefits of many nutrient-dense foods.  Under the current regulations, foods must meet the “low fat” and “low saturated fat” criteria regardless of their nutrient density, resulting in a framework under which fat-free pudding and sugary cereal may bear the term “healthy” while nuts, avocados, olives, and salmon may not.  The Citizen Petition urges FDA to amend the regulations to give food producers more flexibility to use the term “healthy” by excluding the total fat or saturated fat content contributed to a product by fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes, whole grains, and seafood provided that these components are “used in their whole form or have been processed in such a way that did not materially degrade their nutritional value.”  The Citizen Petition also argues more broadly that food producers should be able to make label claims that are consistent with federal dietary recommendations and current scientific evidence.
  • The Citizen Petition is likely to garner support from many diverse stakeholders, ranging from food producers who seek greater claim flexibility to nutrition experts who agree that scientific understanding of the role of fat in the diet has evolved over the past two decades.  It is not clear whether and how quickly FDA will act on this Citizen Petition, but Kind’s request fits within the continued public discussion about healthy dietary practices, particularly as we await the upcoming release of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans and FDA’s forthcoming revisions to the nutrition labeling and serving size regulations.