Most of us reach adulthood with an educated idea about what kinds of food are “good” for you.
But as a species, we're still primitive in the manner of understanding how the things we put in our bodies affect and impact our physiology. Ongoing analysis brings different concerns to bear, and how we group specific foods changes, sometimes often. Ask a dozen different people the last thing they've heard about how we should consume such dietary staples as eggs, coffee and wine and you may get a dozen different answers. Unless we're dieticians, we all struggle with keeping up with changes.
So the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is revamping its definition of “healthy.” The new definition, the FDA says, will reflect changes in what experts think about our diet. But it's a tricky path to maneuver.
One of the keys is remembering that, as Candice Choi of the Associated Press wrote this week, “Some say the word healthy is inherently misleading when applied to a single product instead of an overall diet.”
The guidelines haven't changed since 1994, an eternity when it comes to food science. As the link between dietary cholesterol and heart disease became unclear and the dangers of some fats came to the fore, warnings began to change, and again, we as a general public became confused about what was “best” for us to eat.
The focus of the most recent FDA changes are sugars, total calorie count and vitamin reporting.
Sugars are a huge concern. Additional sugar generally affects the way the body processes and stores nutrients and calories. An excess can lead to obesity and type 2 diabetes. The calorie counts will now clearly reflect the total calories in the packaging, eliminating the nebulous use of “per serving.” Vitamins A and C will no longer be listed on the labels, because research shows Americans rarely are deficient in those vitamins anymore. Tracking Vitamin D and potassium levels is presently more important, so those will be tracked on food labels.
Amid these changes, companies are trying to get their products labeled as “healthy.” Water is not officially healthy, according to the FDA, because the current definition of “healthy” requires a product have at least some sort of presence of nutrients. On the flip side, sugar-free gum makers are arguing since their product has no fat and no sugar, they are “healthy.”
The limits of our present understanding still prompt uncertainty. Saturated fat is the current miscreant on our menu. But according to Harvard Health, replacing saturated fats with polyunsatured fats or high-fiber carbohydrates is the “best bet for reducing the risk of heart disease" but that also “could do the opposite.”
The key is we have to make the commitment ourselves. We know what foods are “good” for us. The revised labels can help us refine our diets to get closer to our ideal intake. But all the nutrition information in the world can't help us if we're not willing to look at what is literally in front of us.
-- Lee News Service