The FDA’s new healthy foods guidance means you can finally eat more cereal

The updated guidelines will help consumers determine which foods are healthier so that they can create better eating habits.
Brittney Grimes
Healthy breakfast bowl.
Healthy breakfast bowl.


The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) updated its guidelines to suggest which foods can be considered “healthy” and when the word can be included on packaging. These updates are significant because they affect many aspects of overall condition and well-being. The FDA also proposed an update to the definitional factors of health and its meaning in nutrition science. The new rules, released in a press release yesterday, were created to help Americans make more informed and healthier decisions when selecting food choices.

Chronic disease from diet

There are many types of chronic diseases from eating the wrong foods. This includes cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes, which are the leading causes of death and disability in the U.S. Also, obesity-related conditions can be a danger to one’s overall health well-being. These conditions include stroke, heart diseases and certain cancers.

More than 80% of Americans aren't eating enough fruits, vegetables and dairy, the FDA states.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the prevalence of obesity for adults increased from 1999-2000 through 2017-March 2020, from 30.5% to 41.9%, respectively. More recently, the number of U.S. states with high adult obesity rates has more than doubled. Studies have shown that eating healthier foods, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins, can be one important factor in preventing obesity and improving nutrition and health.

“Nutrition is key to improving our nation’s health,” said Xavier Becerra, secretary of the FDA Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). “Healthy food can lower our risk for chronic disease. But too many people may not know what constitutes "healthy" food.”

New conditions for the “healthy” food label

The criteria consist of two standards that must be met. The new labeling proposal would make sure packages labeled as “healthy” contain a certain amount of food from at least one of the food groups suggested by dietary guidelines, or subgroups such as fruits or vegetables. In addition, the food would have to follow specific limits on certain nutrients, like sodium, added sugars and saturated fat.

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The limit for nutrients is based on the Daily Value (DV), or amount of nutrients to consume each day, and varies depending on the food.

The FDA mentioned, for example, that “cereal would need to contain three-quarters of an ounce of whole grains and contain no more than 1 gram of saturated fat, 230 milligrams of sodium and 2.5 grams of added sugars.”

Empowering consumers to make better choices

The updated definition of "healthy" food by the FDA is a hopeful step in the right direction. The agency not only wants to empower consumers, but also improve the food supply by manufacturers, creating food that contains more fruits, vegetables and whole grains to meet the updated criteria of the definition.

The FDA also participated in the White House’s Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health recently, the first conference held in over 50 years, and vowed to continue taking steps in supporting the efforts to improve nutrition and health. These steps include creating “a healthier food supply through its recently released guidance to reduce sodium in processed, packaged and prepared foods; to providing consumers with accessible nutrition information about the foods they eat; and to providing industry with recommendations on how to use dietary guidance statements on food labeling.”

Looking ahead

The agency revealed its future planned actions for improving health and dietary habits. Eventually, it wants to develop a front-of-package (FOP) labeling system to help consumers make better decisions, enable lowered sodium content of food, lower sugar consumption, continue educating the public on smarter eating habits and avoiding toxic elements in food, while providing outreach efforts.