What’s ‘healthy’? FDA limits on saturated fat and sugar a let-down for dairy

It’s been 28 years since the FDA last reviewed the definition for ‘healthy’ foods and when they could be labeled as such. The proposed criteria is said to conform with nutrition science, labeling and dietary guidelines, and forms part of the body’s bid to reduce the prevalence of disease.

Dairy is included on the list of naturally nutrient-rich foods alongside fruit, vegetables, protein foods, oils and grains. But a closer look at the proposals reveal that certain dairy products, such as flavored milk or yogurts, may not be considered ‘healthy’ if their sugar, sodium or saturated fat content is above the daily value (DV) threshold set by the FDA.

This is because the body wants to limit the excess intake of nutrients such as these listed above due to their association with chronic disease risk.

For a dairy product to imply health-related benefits on its label, it must contain at least ¾ cup equivalent dairy, have up to 5% DV sugar, 10% DV sodium, and 10% DV saturated fat. Examples of ¾ cup equivalent dairy is 6oz fat-free yogurt or 1 1/8oz non-fat cheese, whilst the daily-value limits translate to 2.5g of sugar, 230mg of sodium, and 2g of saturated fat, with no limit on total fat content.

This means that products which currently qualify as ‘healthy’, such as sweetened yogurt, would no longer be under the proposed definition.

‘Flies in the face of science’

The International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA) has said that ‘[w]hile the proposed rule takes some positive steps toward encouraging consumption of dairy products…, it falls short in many other important areas by limiting how dairy labels communicate the full nutritional benefits of dairy to consumers’.


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