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WEDNESDAY, Sept. 28, 2016 (HealthDay News) -- The U.S. Food and Drug Administration wants Americans to help it clarify the meaning of "healthy" on food labels.
The agency is seeking this public input as it redefines nutritional claims on food labeling.
The effort is part of an overall plan to help consumers quickly make healthy food choices and to encourage the food industry to develop healthier products, according to the FDA.
"We know that many consumers use the Nutrition Facts label, especially when they are buying a food for the first time," Douglas Balentine, director of the FDA's Office of Nutrition and Food Labeling, said in an agency news release.
"Often, there are also a lot of other terms on food packages, such as 'healthy,' 'low in fat,' or 'good source,'" he added. "We also know that many just don't have the time to consider the details of nutrition information on every package they purchase. In fact, most purchase decisions are made quickly, within three to five seconds," Balentine said.
"That's why we're looking at how we define the claim 'healthy.' Companies can use this and other claims on the front of packages of foods that meet certain criteria to help consumers quickly identify nutritious choices," he explained.
While the FDA has started considering the criteria or terms for an updated definition of "healthy" on food labels, it does not have all the answers. "As a first step, we are asking for public input on a range of questions about what 'healthy' should mean from a nutrition perspective, and how consumers understand and use 'healthy' food label claims," Balentine said.
The FDA also plans to evaluate other food label claims.
"We want to give consumers the best tools and information about the foods they choose, with the goal of improving public health," Balentine said in the news release.
"We will also engage with industry to explore other ways to encourage companies to change their products to have better nutrition profiles. The end result will be more healthy dietary choices for consumers, and that is a worthy goal," he said.
Sharon Zarabi directs the bariatric program at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.
She said: "While it is great that the FDA is working on modifying the Nutrition Facts label to make it easier for consumers to choose 'healthier' options, we must not deny the fact that healthy comes from the earth. Most foods that have a label are processed and enriched with vitamins and minerals."
She recommends a diet that includes fruits and vegetables, nuts and lean protein sources.
"These are the healthy foods we should be encouraging in our diet as opposed to evaluating how healthy 'baked' potato chips and fat-free ice cream can be," Zarabi said.
-- Robert Preidt
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SOURCES: Sharon Zarabi RD, CDN, CPT, bariatric program director, Lenox Hill Hospital, New York City; U.S. Food and Drug Administration, news release, Sept. 27, 2016