Evolving Research Leads FDA to Re-evaluate Definition of "Healthy" Foods

Posted August 4th, 2016

On May 10, 2016, U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced upcoming changes to the Nutrition Facts panel (food label). We are pleased that along with those changes, the FDA also recently announced its intention to reevaluate its definition of the term “healthy”.

“In light of evolving nutrition research, …Nutrition Facts Labeling final rules, and a citizen petition, we believe now is an opportune time to reevaluate regulations concerning nutrient content claims, generally, including the term ‘healthy.’”

The definition, which was established more than two decades ago, limits use of the term, “healthy,” on food labels and in other types of communication to foods that are very low in total fat, saturated fat and cholesterol, thus excluding many nutrient-rich, whole foods – such as nuts and avocados – that are rich in beneficial plant-based fats along with other important nutrients. It has been criticized for being inconsistent with advances in scientific knowledge, particularly as a growing body of research supports the healthfulness of replacing saturated fat and empty calories with plant-based fats.

The FDA’s announcement represents a major step as the administration seeks to align its guidance with the state of the science on this topic. When FDA solicits public comment, ABC plans to provide information based on our published research for consideration as they reevaluate this important definition. We are pleased that research funded by the Almond Board of California (ABC) has contributed to the body of evidence that has shaped the current understanding of beneficial dietary fats and their role in healthy dietary patterns. Our communication efforts have also long supported dietary recommendations that encourage replacement of saturated fat with unsaturated, largely plant-based fats, and have been instrumental in amplifying messages encouraging consumers to choose nutrient-rich foods and appropriate portion sizes.

Did you know?

  • Research is a core part of what we do. Founded and funded by almond farmers and processors, ABC seeks “to educate, research, innovate and promote” all there is to know about our product. Our research has helped advance understanding of almonds’ health benefits related to heart health, diabetes, weight management and more.
  • We prioritize transparency and quality in the research we fund. It’s in everyone’s best interest when we select the highest quality research proposals. Working with some of the best and most credible nutrition researchers in the world, we take great pride in the caliber and strength of the nutrition research we fund, and always disclose when we fund it.    
  • What we say publicly about our research results is reviewed and approved by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). As a Federal Marketing Order administered by the USDA, our research messaging is reviewed to ensure study findings are put in the correct context, not distorted, oversimplified or generalized beyond the population that was being investigated. (Of note, no taxpayer dollars are spent on this process.)
  • All research is structured to answer a question that will advance what we know. All the research we fund is set up to address a specific question or questions.  This is important to ensure a systematic approach to a study’s design, and ensures we and others can properly analyze and draw accurate conclusions.
  • Industry-funded studies have led to important findings about healthy dietary patterns and specific nutrients. From 1980-2000, the U.S. Dietary Guidelines recommended that people “avoid too much fat,” or “choose a diet low in fat.” It was nutrition research, some funded by ABC, which led to the current understanding that different types of fats have different, and beneficial, effects on health and wellness. These findings have had dramatic impacts on the changing guidance on fat – which now encourages replacement of saturated fat with unsaturated fat in the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.