By Heather Moore
Should we all pitch in and buy the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) a dictionary? Apparently, the agency is looking for the modern definition of “healthy.” It seems to have no idea what the term means — or should mean — and it’s planning to ask the public for input.
Here’s my suggestion: Forget about “healthy” labels on food packaging. More people will pay attention if the government plasters “unhealthy” labels on packages of meat, eggs and dairy products.
There’s no doubt that federal officials need to catch up with current ideas about what’s healthy — and what’s not. For example, the government still allows “pink slime” — bright pink ammonia-treated meat — to be used as filler in ground beef and permits schools to count pizza as a vegetable if it contains at least two tablespoonfuls of tomato paste. When it isn’t trying to determine whether vegan mayo counts as mayo without the inclusion of artery-clogging eggs, it’s making nutty demands about snack labels. Last year, the FDA warned a manufacturer of fruit-and-nut bars to stop using the term “healthy” on its packaging because the heart-healthy fats in nuts don’t meet the current labeling criteria. While that warning was recently rescinded, the fiasco reportedly prompted the FDA to review its antiquated “healthy” labels.
Here’s why meat, eggs and dairy products should never receive the stamp of approval: Animal-based foods contain cholesterol and saturated fat, which can build up inside the coronary arteries, putting a person at risk for a heart attack. Meat and other animal-based foods can also cause cancer, diabetes, strokes and other life-threatening illnesses.
A new study by the Mayo Clinic in Arizona shows that you can increase your life expectancy by about four years — and probably enhance your quality of life, too — by eating plant-based foods rather than animal-based ones. Researchers analyzed six studies involving more than 1.5 million people and, among other conclusions, determined that processed meat significantly increases the risk of mortality and that people who eat little to no meat may be up to 50 percent less likely to die prematurely than people who eat a lot of meat. Other studies suggest that people who eat plant-based foods live up to 10 years longer than meat-eaters and that vegans are less likely to suffer from debilitating diseases.
In March, the Netherlands began officially advising people to eat significantly less meat — no more than two servings per week — and instead to eat plant-based foods, including beans and nuts. The United Kingdom also recently encouraged its residents to replace several servings of animal protein with healthy vegan foods.
Isn’t it time the U.S. did the same?
In 2012, the government began putting nutrition labels on certain types of raw meat so that shoppers could see how many calories — and how much fat, cholesterol and sodium — are in chicken breasts, steaks, pork chops and other types of meat. It was a good start, but labels proclaiming, “Warning: Consumption of this product can cause heart disease, cancer and other diseases that can lead to premature death,” would be much more effective.
I’ll settle for “unhealthy,” though. It’s concise and easy to understand. And while I won’t hold my breath waiting for the government to require labels reminding shoppers that each package of meat contains the decaying flesh of a dead, dismembered animal, that would make a difference, too.
Thankfully, we don’t have to wait for government labels in order to make healthy, humane choices. We can just do it ourselves. If you care about your health—as well as animals and the environment — just choose wholesome vegan foods. Nowadays, no one needs a dictionary to know what “vegan” means – not even the FDA.