Food labeling regulations currently mandate that ‘healthy’ can only be used as a nutrient content claim on foods that are also low in fat, effectively banning high-fat foods such as nuts and avocados - which are widely accepted as healthy foods - from making this claim.
Under pressure from brands such as KIND to take a more nuanced approach to fats, the FDA recently issued new guidance saying it will now permit 'healthy' claim on higher fat products, provided the fats in question are mostly mono- or poly-unsaturated fats (considered to be healthier fats).
Dietary cholesterol is not directly related to levels of cholesterol in the blood
This is good news, said United Egg Producers president Chad Gregory in comments submitted to the FDA as part of its new probe into 'healthy' claims, but the guidance still leaves eggs out in the cold:
"Eggs still fail two others tests for a ‘healthy’ claim: The first is the requirement that a food be low in saturated fat [the standard is 1g saturated fat per serving, and eggs have 1.5g]. The standard is also 15% of total calories from saturated fat, while eggs supply 19%.”
The second is cholesterol content, “and here, eggs do not come close,” he said. “The test is 60mg/serving, but eggs supply 185g… The problem is that FDA's current regulations were written at a time when dietary cholesterol was demonized and thought to be directly related to the level of cholesterol in the blood…. But science and dietary guidance have changed.
“The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans dropped the longstanding recommendation to limit daily cholesterol intake to 300mg… We respectfully submit that FDA's regulatory threshold for cholesterol content is outdated and should be deleted in its entirety.
“Pending regulatory action, FDA should modify the enforcement discretion outlined in its guidance document to permit foods to bear a ‘healthy’ claim without regard to either total fat or cholesterol as long as less than half their fat content is saturated and they provide a good source of one or more beneficial nutrients listed by FDA.”
Finally, said Gregory, “UEP requests that FDA exempt foods from meeting the low-saturated-fat requirement for the ‘healthy’ claim if they are specifically identified as nutrient-dense in the DGA and meet the other requirements noted above.”
‘Ironic’ that snacks bars can be called healthy under new guidance, but eggs cannot
While UEP did not wish to disparage snack brand KIND [which was instrumental in prompting the FDA probe into healthy], he added: “We find it ironic that ‘healthy’ claims will now be made for snack bars but cannot be made for a nutrient-rich food like eggs.”
One large egg contains 70 calories and 13 essential vitamins and minerals, 6g of high-quality protein, and the antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin, says the Egg Nutrition Center.
"Eggs are an excellent source of choline and selenium, and a good source of high-quality protein, vitamin D, vitamin B12, phosphorus and riboflavin. Eggs are also rich in the essential amino acid leucine, which plays a unique role in stimulating muscle protein synthesis."
“We will not comment on the current scientific controversy about whether the adverse dietary effects of saturated fat may have been overstated, other than to note that 25 years ago, nutrition experts were as alarmed about total fat as they now are about saturated fat. Nevertheless, eggs do not [currently] qualify as low in saturated fat.”
Chad Gregory, president, United Egg Producers
According to a new clinical study published online in the Journal of Nutrition on January 11, consuming up to three eggs per day “favored a less atherogenic LDL [aka ‘bad’ cholesterol] particle profile [bigger particles are better as they are less prone to uptake in arterial walls], improved HDL [aka ‘good cholesterol] function, and increased plasma antioxidants in young, healthy adults.”
In the 14-week crossover study of 40 healthy adults aged 18-30, “one egg per day was sufficient to promote enhancements in HDL composition and function, and two-three eggs/day supported greater enhancements in the function and composition of this lipoprotein,” wrote the authors.
“We observed an increase in the concentration of large HDL particles as well as an increase in concentration of lutein and zeaxanthin and activity of PON1 [an enzyme that protects HDL and LDL against oxidative modification].”