White Bread, Cereal No Longer ‘Healthy’ Under Draft FDA Rule Change

  • Food currently considered “healthy” stands to lose that designation under a draft FDA rule change.
  • White bread and sugary cereal would lose the claim, while salmon and avocados would gain it.
  • Groups representing big food companies are fighting the change.

Some of the items in your grocery basket could lose their “healthy” designation under proposed guideline changes from the Food and Drug Administration.

Trade groups representing big food companies are pushing back again the change, STAT News reported on Tuesday. Their complaint: That the changes would leave very few of their products in the “healthy” category.

Under the proposed changes, “healthy” foods would have to mostly contain one of the food groups in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, such as whole grains. They would also have to contain lower amounts of saturated fat, sodium, and added sugars.

Those changes mean that food companies could no longer market white bread as well as sugary cereals and yogurt as “healthy,” according to the FDA. Other foods, including avocados, nuts and seeds, water, and high-fat fish such as salmon would be considered “healthy” under the new guidelines even though they aren’t currently.

The FDA adopted its current definition of “healthy” in 1994. That definition focused heavily on the total amount of fat, added sugar, and sodium that a food contains.

The new definition, by contrast, takes a more nuanced view of fats, according to the FDA. Sources of omega-3 fatty acids such as fish, for example, would get the “healthy” designation because of potential health benefits from that type of fat. 

The change would also take the designation away from breakfast cereals like Kellogg’s Raisin Bran, Gizmodo reported on Thursday.

Updating the FDA’s definition of “healthy” ensures “that nutrient-dense foods that help consumers to build a diet consistent with current dietary recommendations can qualify to bear the claim,” the Agency said.

Groups representing major food makers oppose the changes. The Consumer Brands Association, which represents companies including Mondelez, General Mills, and Coca-Cola, told the FDA in a written comment on the guidelines that they would violate its members’ constitutional rights to free speech, STAT reported.

That argument could set the group up to file a lawsuit challenging the guidelines, though a representative for the CBA told STAT that the comments “were not meant to imply the group would sue.”

The revised definition of “healthy” isn’t a requirement for food companies, according to the FDA. Even so, many food companies closely follow nonbinding FDA guidelines.

Another set of proposed FDA guidelines for plant-based milks, for example, drew ire from the dairy industry this week. The draft proposal would allow makers of almond milk and other non-dairy alternatives to use the word “milk” on their labels, though it encourages those companies to disclose how the nutrition of their products differs from cow’s milk.

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