The health-conscious consumer is increasingly looking for information about the food they are buying, and food labels are an immediate source. Accordingly, companies are labeling their products as “healthy” in an effort to attract people who want to make better nutrition choices. With the advancement in nutrition science, regulations on claims such as “healthy” also naturally need to evolve.

The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, M.D. recently announced FDA’s new steps to advance health through improvements in nutrition. Modernizing labels to make them simpler and understandable by implementing a new Nutrition Facts label –an item that hadn’t been refreshed in more than 20 years– reflect recent scientific developments as part of an initiative designed to empower consumers to choose healthful diets.

To keep in line with new scientific findings, FDA has started a public process to redefine the “healthy” claim for food labeling. At present, companies can label foods as “healthy” if they meet the nutrient conditions for protein, fiber and certain vitamins and minerals. However, the criteria may change since the FDA is looking to update the criteria based on public health recommendations found in the most recent Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

For the future, labeling a product as “healthy” may not be based solely on nutrients as FDA has stated interest in exploring food groups for which American diets typically fall short of recommendations. Examples include whole grains, low-fat dairy, fruits and vegetables, and healthy oils.

The FDA has also been pressed to define what “natural” means, in order to give consumers sufficient guidance and avoid false claims from food manufacturers. Having clear definitions of those terms is a pressing issue because such indetermination creates consumer confusion. For example, a Mintel survey revealed that consumers are confusing “healthy” with “clean”. While “clean labeling” may refer only to products with simple and recognizable ingredients, consumers often equate such a term with “healthy”.

Today, almost 40 percent of U.S. adults are obese and poor nutrition plays a part in this epidemic. That is why providing the tools that make it easy for consumers to evaluate their food and make healthier choices is a key step towards combatting obesity and non-communicable diseases. Information is power; better-informed, more aware consumers are an important asset to shift health trends towards a healthier and happier lifestyle.