The FDA as a Nutritionist

FDA: Frosted Flakes Healthier Than an Avocado

If the FDA were a nutritionist, it would be fired! Many people in the U.S. rely on the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as a reliable source for nutrition information. The agency establishes recommended daily allowances for various minerals and vitamins, so it makes sense that it would be the "go-to" expert.

However, the FDA's guidelines for "healthy" foods are pretty outdated. With few substantial updates since 1994, the FDA's criteria for "healthy," "wholesome" and "nutritious" labeling is pretty archaic. A few weeks ago, the FDA began discussing changing up its labeling system, but new standards are likely years in the making.

What's so bad about the current criteria?

  • It relies on old research. Back in the day when research indicated that sodium and all fats were the culprit of our nation's health problems, the FDA focused on fat contents, cholesterol and other variables that determined if a food was healthy or not. As a result, eggs, avocados, nuts and coconut oil, among many others, were banned from the healthy list -- and exchanged for cookies, processed foods and other items that fell below the benchmark levels for fat. However, as they reduced the fat levels in many processed foods (such as children's cereals), manufacturers increased sugar levels to make them taste better. As a result, consumers are eating foods that are much lower in fat -- but, incredibly high in sugar.
  • All fat isn't bad. The fat in salmon and almonds, for instance, is actually good for you. About a year ago, the FDA ordered the makers of the Kind bar to remove the word "healthy" from all of its marketing and packaging, because the products exceeded recommended levels of unsaturated fat. The company complied, but it has petitioned the FDA "to better align its nutrition labeling regulations with the latest science and current dietary guidance, particularly when it comes to using the word healthy," Kind CEO and founder Daniel Lubetzky said in a statement. The FDA has rescinded the decision and is now allowing Kind to use "healthy" in its descriptions.
  • The current guidelines make few recommendations for whole foods. Processed foods with all of their chemicals and additives are not especially healthy for anyone. However, the FDA establishes no different criteria for these types of options than it does for foods found naturally from Mother Nature.
  • Sugar levels are not an issue with the FDA. Currently, food manufacturers are not required to indicate the percent of sugar that a food contains on its label. Added sugar quantities do not appear, either. Foods with excessive sugar or artificial sweeteners should be on your radar...but, you can't trust the FDA to help you identify them while you're shopping in the grocery store.
  • The guidelines assume everyone is the same. Not everybody has the same nutritional needs. For example, some people can handle high levels of lactose in their diets. Others cannot. Some people prefer a vegan diet. Others like grass-fed beef. There isn't one way to dictate nutrition, but the FDA seems to want to place everybody into one category to make it easy.

What does this mean for you? It's pretty simple when you think about it. The FDA isn't a reliable source. They are passing judgments along to consumers that are based on outdated information. I could even suggest that they are partnered up with big pharma or obligated to partnerships formed through subsidies given to farmers. (But, you didn't hear that from me! lol!)

Basically, you have to be your own health advocate. Utilize the internet to do your research about foods and how they affect you. Don't believe everything you read or see. Use your common sense and draw your own conclusions.

Realize that everybody is different. Strive to eat real food. Foods derived from nature are the real deal.

And -- stay away from those low-fat Pop Tarts or Frosted Flakes. Just because they are supposedly healthier than a handful of almonds, doesn't mean that it's the truth!