The one where “healthy” lost its cool

It started as a Spright editorial team challenge because I had an eye-roll moment with the word “healthy,” so could we just stop using it in posts for the month of September (and then forever)? There are plenty of other descriptors to choose from, we thought. Healthy is boring, repetitive; it always has an unnecessary caveat (“but delicious!”), and it holds an empty promise because it shouldn’t describe food to begin with. Food has nutrients. Food fuels our body. Food may or may not be tasty. Food may or not be crunchy, or plant-based, raw, or cooked. Our body is healthy. TBH, healthy may not really be the word food would use to describe its own state by the time we eat it. It’s usually dead, or at least chopped, and about to get mangled in our digestive system.

But also, news flash: healthy has no standard, universal definition (in relation to food). The word health itself doesn’t mean the same thing to all of us! Yet, a company slaps it on food packaging and the hands start grabbing. There is an FDA definition of it, which is why we’re chatting about this…


You may remember that a little over one year ago, KIND Snacks received a warning from the FDA and were asked to remove the word “healthy” from their packaging because their products did not meet this FDA “healthy” standard. Months later, KIND started a civil petition. We all scratched our heads as we realized, whoa, that FDA standard for using the h-word hasn’t been updated since the early 1990’s. (Also, aren’t there plenty of other products that should be receiving these warnings?)


the FDA is all, Nevermind…go ahead and use it!* They reversed their stance and then started sharpening their pencils. Back to the proverbial drawing board, better come up with a new definition!

So, without actually changing their standard definition of the word healthy, the FDA says KIND can go back to marketing as usual. Interesting, no? So, we’re all just in agreement that those snack bars have passed the undefined test? (Look, I enjoy a KIND bar. Really more of a LARABAR fan myself, though.)

Who else has free reign? What other foods have taken notice and decided to slap a good ol’ “HEALTHY!” sticker on their packaging? I mean, why not, right? It doesn’t really mean anything specific (for now), anyway.

Fun fact: while I was rethinking Spright’s use of the word healthy and was annoyed by the FDA’s dated definition, I asked our dietetic intern at the time to do a little math and internet digging to see how many recipes or products used the word “healthy” and were or were not in line with the FDA standard. (That was much more complicated than I had ever anticipated – sorry, Megan!) As you may have guessed by now, most of the random recipes she searched did not fit this archaic government standard. But, that may have been a good thing anyway!

My point

The FDA’s attempt to redefine both healthy and natural has actually just shown they have little to no idea what those words actually mean. They’ve lost credibility. They’ve also made it clear that we as consumers need to step back and reevaluate why we buy certain products.

We need to look far past fancy packaging to decide which foods will fuel our health. A good rule of thumb? Buy foods without front or back package marketing. Buy foods that sell themselves, without someone on the marketing, R&D, or sales team deciding what’s healthy for you.

More Reads:
No food is healthy. Not even kale.  Michael Ruhlman, The Washington Post (2016)

What do we mean by health? Alistair Tulloch, British Journal of General Practice (2005)

FDA Rethinking Healthy Thanks to KIND Melissa Musiker, MPH, RD

Our Nutrition Standard at Spright

*A more thorough account of what has transpired here. ( 

Wellness Wednesday: What is healthy? Rachael Hartley, RD

(Feature Image source:


  1. May 12, 2016

    Interesting points! I have always liked using the term “healthy” but I base that completely on my interpretation of healthy, which is probably not what others deem healthy. Now I need to rethink what to replace that word with!

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