Does “healthy” mean added sugars are 10% max of calories? The food makers give a salty response

Walking through the aisles of the supermarket, you can find a lot of food products with the word “healthy” on the label. The FDA is trying to crack down on this and define more clearly what is actually healthy. Food companies are fighting back.

Currently, the FDA is “very liberal” in what it allows to appear on the front of food packages, such as “gluten-free” and “fat-free” gummy bears (which is technically true), says Laura Riley, food business correspondent for the newspaper. Washington Post.

She adds, “There’s a lot of bait-and-switch in the food industry. And so the FDA has been tasked with essentially rethinking its definition of health and also coming up with some new, more usable, more consumer-friendly packaging rules.”

There is a big trend now regarding limits on added sugar. Two years ago, the dietary guidelines for “healthy” food meant that no more than 10% of calories could come from added sugars, she said. The FDA wanted to apply this to school meals, but nutrition experts told Riley that not enough food companies on the market would stick with it.

She explained that the proposed new “healthy” rules state that whether you have a lightly or moderately processed food — containing fruits, vegetables, meat, nuts or eggs — it cannot contain added sugars. And for grains, dairy and other items, it can only contain 2.5 grams of sugar per serving.

In response, Conagra, which owns Healthy Meals, told the FDA that it couldn’t sell a product people wanted to eat with the new proposed limits on added sugars, saturated fat, and sodium. She quotes the company: “If these are the standards we have to live up to, we might just focus on the things we know people like, and forget about aspirations toward healthy food.”

In addition, the Sugar Association, Dairy Association, Snack International, Campbell’s Soup and more are interested in the limits.

For the 10% rule, the companies will swap for table sugar and instead use low- and no-calorie sweeteners, such as stevia and monk fruit, Riley predicts.

“If calories were the main agenda—reducing calories—then that would do the trick. But there is growing evidence that it may not be neutral…for the gut biome. And obviously there have been many important studies in the last couple of years. …suggest that for someone who has diabetes or has any lifestyle-related illnesses, your body still responds to fake sugars the way it does to real sugar….so they may not be any better for us.”

There are serious consequences for children, too. She explains that the “bliss point” — the maximum saltiness or sweetness that people prefer — is about twice as high for children as it is for adults.

“Kids gravitate to things that are very sweet. And if what we do is… instead we put something like allulose or some of these high-intensity sweeteners, some of which are 20,000 times sweeter than real sugar. So, if we replace these… maybe not They are calorically dense, but are we making children prefer excessive sweetness from a very early age? So biting into an apple – it doesn’t taste sweet at all. So a lot of behavior is learned in early childhood. And I think this is another opportunity to start implementing unexpected consequences associated with with artificial sweeteners.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) just ended its comment period on the new rules, and sometime in 2024, it will officially release its new definition of “healthy.”