Society is slowly but surely becoming more health conscious. As it does, it demands more nutrition information be revealed to consumers. Many manufacturers label their foods as “healthy,” and in some way are justifying it. The word “healthy” is relative and, therefore, is a term that can be used rather loosely. For example, just because can labels show that products are high in vitamins and minerals does not mean it is necessarily healthy for you. The general rule of thumb is that the fewer ingredients a food product contains, the better for you it is.
There are two important questions that need to be asked and addressed when it comes to this issue.
1. What are the specific requirements placed on manufacturers in order to label their products as healthy?
First and foremost, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Department of Agriculture (USDA) require labeling for almost all foods, including canned. It requires nutrition and health information be clearly labeled. As far as labeling it as “healthy,” a qualified health claim must be made in accordance with the enforced standard rules regulations.
A qualified food health claim characterizes the connection of a particular substance to a health-related condition or disease. This claim may consist of a statement, symbol or other suggestion regarding the specific relationship. The claim must be backed up with facts to support it. These claims are strictly limited to those associated with general disease risk reduction, rather than diagnoses, treatments or cures.
2. What will the potential outcome be?
The potential outcome of these requirements can incite some serious consequences. Take Cheerios cereal as an example. In 2009, the FDA took issue with General Mills, the maker of Cheerios, for claiming that it is designed to “prevent or treat heart disease” and that it can help lower cholesterol by a certain percentage in a certain amount of time. The language on the box was what was being challenged, rather than the actual science of the statement. This scenario proves that manufacturers must be extremely cautious when it comes to why and how their food is labeled as healthy.
Another example of consumer confusion is fruit snacks and fruit rollups. While they claim to be healthy because they contain Vitamin C or real fruit juice, they are packed with high fructose corn syrup. There are healthier alternatives, such as fresh fruit or yogurt. Many canned foods contain healthy fruits and vegetables, but the sugar and sodium content can be their downfall. The food labels should be carefully inspected.
On the positive side, health-conscious individuals will more likely be drawn to foods labeled as healthy. Many consumers do not know what to look for when it comes to health statements and labels on food. They are often at a loss and end up choosing anything that is labeled with this one special word. If a food is labeled as healthy, it must be backed by a true and consistent statement and facts. Consumers would be wise to do some fact checking and comparisons on the internet before taking a manufacturer’s product at its word. There are many truly healthy foods available to choose from that are labeled as such. Paying close attention to what is stated on the labels, and the truth behind it, is a great start.