Q: What criteria does the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) use to define foods as “healthy”?
A: For an individual food item to be called “healthy,” FDA requires that it be low in fat and saturated fat, and meet limits for sodium and cholesterol. In addition, the food item must contain at least 10 percent per serving of the Daily Value of one or more of the following nutrients: vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium, iron, fiber, and protein. However, as a result of a recent modification in the “healthy” definition by FDA, frozen and canned fruits and vegetables are exempt from the minimum nutrient requirement.

Q: Why did the FDA modify the definition of “healthy”?
A: The FDA first published the regulations for the claim “healthy” in May 1994. The first definition established the sodium, cholesterol, fat and saturated fat limits, and the minimum nutrient content criteria. At the time, however, FDA specified that raw fruits and vegetables could be labeled “healthy” without meeting the 10 percent nutrient contribution requirement.

In June 1994, the Food Products Association (FPA) petitioned FDA asking the Agency to remove the word “raw” from the “healthy” claim, thereby exempting all fruits and vegetables, including processed, from the minimum nutrient requirements. On March 25, 1998 the FDA changed the “healthy” criteria, and now allows processors of canned and frozen fruits and vegetables which do not contain at least 10 percent of the Daily Value of the specified nutrients to put the word “healthy” on the label.

Q: Are canned or frozen fruits and vegetables as healthy as raw produce?
A: Absolutely. The recent FDA decision clearly demonstrates that processed fruits and vegetables are a valuable part of a healthful diet.

Nutritional studies have proven that canned and frozen fruits and vegetables have about the same level of the important nutrients as raw produce after preparation. The data demonstrate that there is little meaningful difference between the nutrient content of canned and frozen fruits and vegetables and fresh produce when they are prepared for consumption, regardless of processing methods.

Q: Why are fruits and vegetables processed?
A: Foods are processed for convenience and safety. Food processing involves procedures such as: drying, canning, freezing, and pasteurization. For example, drying is a process by which water is removed from the product, causing the product to become dehydrated. Since microorganisms need water to grow, without moisture, they can’t flourish. Canning is a process where foods are put into a container and given a high heat treatment to make the product sterile. The process of canning, be it vegetables, meat, or seafood, makes food safe because all dangerous microorganisms are destroyed.

Q: How does FDA’s new rule impact my fruit and vegetable purchases?
A: The choices for a healthful diet are greater because FDA now recognizes that canned and frozen fruits and vegetables are a significant part of a healthful diet. All consumers can consider canned and frozen fruits and vegetables when purchasing “healthy” items. Consumers also should look for the “Nutrition Facts” label which details nutrient content per serving.

In addition, the federal government’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend three to five servings per day from the vegetable group, and two to four daily servings of fruit. One fruit serving consists of one medium apple, banana, orange, or ½ cup of chopped, cooked or canned fruit. A vegetable serving can be measured as one cup of a raw leafy vegetable, or ½ cup of a cooked or chopped raw vegetable.