FDA examines the definition of “healthy” with dietary guidance statements on food labels

27 Mar 2023 — Consumers will soon have more nutritional information on the label to help improve their dietary choices, as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) guides food manufacturers on how and when to use Dietary Guidance Statements on food labels. The FDA also plans to reduce salt intake in standardized foods. 

In a proposed rule, the FDA states it will change standards of identity for food to include safe and suitable salt substitutes to help support a healthier food supply by facilitating industry innovation to reduce sodium content and assist consumers in reducing their salt intake. 

Its draft guidance on Dietary Guidance Statements should ensure food manufacturers promote good nutrition, provide greater consistency in labeling and assist consumers in making informed choices. 

“The Dietary Guidance Statements draft guidance, reducing sodium intake and updating the definition of ‘healthy’ are examples of how the agency is showing its commitment to fostering a healthier food supply for all and empowering consumers with more informative and accessible labeling to choose healthier diets,” says Susan Mayne, director of the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition.  

Man standing in supermarket looking at standardized products. Standards of identity for foods typically describe what ingredients a food must contain and which are optional. Sodium alternatives to reduce salt intake  
In the proposed rule on salt alternatives, the FDA does not list permitted substitutes but adds they need to be safe and suitable to replace some or all of the salt in a standardized food. The used alternatives need to safeguard food safety and other essential characteristics of the food. 

The FDA is currently accepting comments on the proposed rule. 

In 2021, the FDA issued industry guidance on short-term voluntary sodium reduction targets in over 160 packaged and restaurant-prepared foods categories. The current proposal could help manufacturers meet those targets. 

“Most people in the US consume too much sodium. The majority of sodium consumed comes from processed, packaged and prepared foods, not from salt people add to their food when cooking or eating,” adds Mayne. 

“This effort, combined with the FDA’s voluntary sodium reduction targets, is part of the agency’s overall nutrition strategy to create a healthier food supply, provide consumers with information to choose healthier foods and improve the health and wellness of our nation.” 

Dietary guidelines 
The FDA explains that eating patterns in the US do not align with federal dietary recommendations. Dietary Guidance Statements, such as “Make half your grains whole grain” and “Eat leafy green vegetables as part of a nutritious dietary pattern,” discuss how a food (group) can be part of a nutritious dietary pattern. 

The draft guidance includes recommendations that products contain a meaningful amount of the food that is the subject of the statement and that foods do not exceed specific amounts of saturated fat, sodium and added sugars. It aims to reduce the burden of chronic disease and advance health equity through improved nutrition. 

Person looking at food label. Dietary Guidance Statements may include symbols to show a food may contribute to a nutritious dietary pattern.“The FDA is committed to being a part of the solution to improve the health of millions of Americans. Today’s action is another step toward helping consumers make informed choices about their foods,” adds FDA Commissioner Robert Califf. 

In a recent study, researchers advocate for a new carbohydrate food quality score model that evaluates carbohydrate quality in a more culturally inclusive way and aligns better with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. 

National strategy on hunger, nutrition and health 
Both initiatives are part of the US National Strategy on Hunger, Nutrition and Health. This strategy includes a roadmap of the federal government’s actions to end hunger and reduce diet-related diseases by 2030 – while reducing disparities. 

“Creating a healthier food supply, a key priority in the FDA’s nutrition work, has the potential to improve Americans’ health and reduce preventable diet-related diseases and deaths,” adds Califf. “Reducing sodium in the food supply may also advance health equity—unfortunately, hypertension and other diet-related diseases disproportionately impact underserved communities.”

In another initiative, the FDA updated the definition of “healthy” on food labels to help consumers easily identify healthy food choices. The American Herbal Products Association has stressed dietary supplements should be exempted from this proposed legislation.  

In addition, the FDA will start assessing different strategies to reduce added sugar consumption. 

By Jolanda van Hal 

This feature is provided by FoodIngredientsFirst’s sister website, NutritionInsight.

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