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Nobody Knows What Healthy Food Means (Still)

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Do you think you know what “healthy” food means? Then the FDA would like to hear from you.

The FDA just requested public input on the meaning of the word “healthy,” the first step towards a new definition. The agency first announced it would be revamping the term’s definition this summer.

The decision came after a scuffle with KIND granola bars where—after being told to remove the tag “healthy and tasty” from its bars—the food manufacturer asked to keep it, arguing it wasn’t nutritional information but a “corporate philosophy.” The FDA eventually agreed to let the company keep the tag but also said it had decided to update the definition of the term.


At the time, they told Gizmodo there was no real timeline for when the new definition would be issued. But, as of today, the move towards a new definition appears to be moving forward.

The current FDA definition describes “healthy” as “an implied nutrient content claim” that suggests the food is consistent with current dietary recommendations, particularly for fat and cholesterol. The problem is that still leaves the term pretty wide open for interpretation—and, as we’ve seen with the case of “natural” that can cause big problems.


After the FDA refused to define natural—under the premise that everything we eat has been at least a little processed—people went wild with the term, in both directions. A plain bucket of oats, with nothing added, was sued for being “unnatural,” while 7-Up, fruit snacks, and Cheetos all happily touted their own “natural” benefits to customers.

Last year, the FDA started collecting definitions of what “natural” means to the public—although no actual definition has yet come out from the agency nor has it actually said it plans to write one. The case of “healthy” is a little different, because it started out with a definition, and the FDA has promised from the beginning that the process is going to result in another one. The sooner we see clear definitions of both terms out, the less room there will be for food advertisers to try and create new definitions for themselves.