What does healthy mean?

September 14, 1999|By Lynn F. Little

"Part of a healthy diet ... a healthy food ... a healthy choice."

We see the word "healthy" on many food labels and in many informational pieces on the foods we eat.

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Along with "fresh," the word "healthy" has great consumer appeal and market value.

The average product labeled "healthy" can command 60 cents more than a similar product without such a label.

But what does healthy actually mean?

As a supplement to labeling regulations, the federal government has defined what it considers to be healthy food. The term "healthy" means low in fat, saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium.

Specifically, to use the term "healthy" on a food label, a product must contain no more than three grams of total fat, one gram of saturated fat, 60 milligrams of cholesterol and 480 milligrams of sodium per serving.


To avoid "healthy" claims on such products as jelly beans and soda (due to their absence of fat, cholesterol and sodium), food products labeled as "healthy" also must contain at least 10 percent of the daily value of vitamin A, vitamin C, iron, calcium, protein or fiber per serving. Meal-type products, such as frozen entrees or multicourse frozen dinners, must contain at least 10 percent of the daily value for two or three of these nutrients, depending on the size and type of meal.

The term "healthy" also can be used on raw meat and poultry products that meet U.S. Department of Agriculture's definition for "extra lean." To be labeled as extra lean, a product must contain no more than five grams of total fat, two grams of saturated fat and 95 milligrams of cholesterol per 100 grams of product. Products such as well-trimmed beef round steak, tenderloin pork chops and skinless chicken breast can be expected to meet the "healthy" definition.

So, if you are looking for "healthy foods" as part of a "healthy diet," take time to read the food labels the next time you shop for groceries.

Maryland Cooperative Extension programs are open to all citizens without regard to race, color, sex, disability, age, religion or national origin.

Lynn F. Little is a family and consumer sciences extension educator for Maryland Cooperative Extension, Washington County.

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