This post was written by Heather Sachs. Heather is a Registered Dietitian with a Masters degree in Clinical Nutrition. She has more than 15 years of experience combining her knowledge in food, nutrition, and regulatory affairs as well as translating science into impactful brand communication. Heather is currently Blue Apron’s Director of Regulatory Affairs. 

The term ‘healthy’ is all over the internet. You probably encounter the word every day in headlines, on social media, and as part of a product’s marketing, but when was the last time you stopped to think about what it really means? Healthy has always been an important term with regard to nutrition and wellness, but when used in product marketing, it has a specific meaning that may surprise you.  

Healthy, as defined by FDA, is a nutrient content claim (NCC). An NCC characterizes the level of nutrients in a food. For example, if a product is labeled low sodium, it must contain less than 140 mg of sodium per serving. Specifically, to be able to call a meal or main dish healthy, it must be low fat (less than 3g per 100 grams, and not more than 30% of calories from fat), low in saturated fat (less than 1g per 100 grams and not more than 10% calories from saturated fat), have fewer than 600 mg sodium, contain fewer than 90 mg cholesterol, and contain at least 10% DV of either Vitamin A, C, Iron or Calcium.  That’s a lot of meaning packed into a little word!

The science used to develop the original FDA definition of healthy is now outdated. The old definition considers total fat rather than the type of fat, which we now understand is more important to a healthy diet. The old definition prevented foods like salmon or nuts, which did not meet the definition of low fat, from calling themselves healthy. It did, however, allow a sugar-sweetened beverage or candy item with 0g of fat and a good source of vitamin C to be labeled as healthy.

This definition was challenged by industry in 2016. The FDA later issued interim guidance that disregarded the existing definition’s low-fat requirement, so long as 51% of the product’s fat came from poly and monounsaturated fats. It also added Vitamin D and potassium to the list of positive nutrients that needed to be present in at least 10% DV (one must be present to meet the definition). The industry has been long awaiting a final definition for the term healthy from FDA. An updated definition may arrive this year, along with a new symbol to represent it. 

The regulatory definition of the term is complicated, but what does healthy actually mean to you?  

Many people strive to follow a healthy diet. Depending on your lifestyle, healthy eating can look pretty different. You don’t have to follow an entirely organic, plant-based, and local style to feel like you’re making healthy choices. 

Life is crazy, but healthy eating can be fun and enjoyable. Maybe some days you eat locally, while on busier days you rely on pre-prepared foods. Whether it’s takeout, cooking a meal from scratch, or cooking semi-prepped ingredients, the foods that we eat are an essential part of a healthy lifestyle. 

It’s also important to consider mental health. For busy working parents, saving time by having a Blue Apron Wellness box delivered each week can free up time to spend with your family, and will deliver fresh produce straight to your door.

Healthy may have a strict regulatory definition, but that’s not necessarily the way we live our lives. It’s helpful to understand how the term is used in marketing, but it’s equally important to create your own definition of healthy for yourself and your family.