The New 'Healthy' Label The FDA Is Considering For Packaged Foods

In the food world, adjectives matter. Even though a captivating food photo can cause a rumbling in the stomach, it cannot convey the taste from that first bite. Using descriptions, however, like fork-tender, extreme spice, or even zesty fresh can offer a glimpse into a dish's flavor. As the FDA looks to clearly define the word "healthy," and add a label stating so on the front of some packaged foods, this begs the question, what does healthy food really mean?

Published in a 2016 FDA guidance document, the organization looked to clarify how and why the term "healthy" could be used when labeling types of food. Although not legally binding, the Nutritional Labeling facts and descriptors are used by consumers to help them make food decisions. Whether a shopper is looking for a low sodium or low sugar option or prefers non-GMO foods, labels are vital to helping people make an informed choice. 

Still, words matter. Words like "healthy," "better for you," and "balanced" convey a sentiment. Even the term "diet," as in diet soda, has faded from the shelves as consumers want positive connotations when it comes to food choices. If the term "healthy" is part of the packaging, how can one powerful word be used to describe a plethora of food options?

How can the label 'healthy' be used without an actual meaning?

Walking down a grocery store aisle or scanning that food app isn't about just blindly picking an item to put in the cart. Terms like, "new and improved" or "gluten-free" have specific meanings in the food world. According to Food Dive, the FDA is looking at employing a new way of defining "healthy" as a package labeling system using two large consumer studies. While the research will look at consumers' understanding of the label, it's short of actually defining what the term really means. If there is no true definition, how can a "healthy' label be meaningful?

Few people would argue against easy-to-understand packaging. But, Food Dive previously reported that consumers find it difficult to determine what terms like "healthy" really mean. Even though descriptions like "healthy dessert" might be an oxymoron, there has been a move towards conscious eating and it's more than just knowing the calorie count of that favorite fast food meal

People want to be informed. While years ago some people might have thought that low-fat dessert meant an extra serving, that concept has shifted. Although healthy can mean some vigor of body, mind, and spirit, making that sentiment easily understood will take more than an eye-catching logo that encourages consumers to pluck it off the shelf.