More types of food can now be certified as heart-healthy – including fish and nuts.Good news, seafood lovers and almond snackers: Fish, nuts and other foods high in healthier fats can now join the list of heart-smart fare through the American Heart Association’s Heart-Check Food Certification Program.
All shoppers need to do at the grocery store is look for the familiar Heart-Check mark to find foods that make the heart-healthy grade.
“With these enhancements, the Heart-Check program will help consumers easily identify and choose even more heart-healthy foods for themselves and their families,” said Rachel Johnson, Ph.D., R.D., a professor of nutrition at the University of Vermont and the vice chair of the American Heart Association nutrition committee.
Foods such as salmon and unsalted, unoiled peanuts are eligible to be use the American Heart Association’s seal of approval right away. Further down the road, in 2014, products that are already certified will have time to phase in the more rigorous criteria that require even lower amounts of sodium, more fiber and fewer added sugars.
Started in 1995, the Heart-Check mark program certifies foods that meet certain nutrition criteria. You’ve seen it before: that ubiquitous red-and-white logo on the label of nearly 900 products nationwide. The checkmark helps shoppers see through the clutter on grocery store shelves to reach for foods that are better choices to be eaten as part of an overall healthy dietary pattern to protect their hearts. Compared to other well-known symbols, more shoppers trust the Heart-Check mark, according to American Heart Association research.
It’s the goal of the American Heart Association to improve the cardiovascular health of all Americans by 20 percent by the year 2020. The Heart-Check mark program is one proven way to help families eat healthier, and these latest changes will make choosing more good foods easier.
Fish is a long overdue addition to the Heart-Check mark family: The American Heart Association has long recommended eating fish at least a couple times a week. Salmon, mackerel, herring, lake trout, sardines, albacore tuna and other fish high in omega-3 fatty acids are all now officially worthy of the Heart-Check mark. Low-sodium nuts, such as almonds, peanuts and pecans, can also earn the mark.
Fatty fish and nuts are part of a heart-healthy menu because they’re full of “better” fats – monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Foods high in “better” fats can lower bad cholesterol when eaten in moderation. As long as the total fat doesn’t top a certain amount, and the product is limited in negative nutrients, the foods with beneficial fats can garner the Heart-Check mark.
For foods already in the program and certified, manufacturers must make certain changes within the next few years to guarantee their products meet the new criteria that includes less salt and sugar and plenty of dietary fiber.
Sodium and sugar limits
The American Heart Association recommends no more than 1,500 milligrams of sodium each day. Most Americans consume more than double that amount.
Desserts and other sugary foods and drinks aren’t eligible for certification. But milk, cereals and other foods will be screened for the threshold amount of added sugars for that particular product. Yogurt, for example, can’t contain more than 20 grams of total sugars for a 6-ounce serving. And a serving of high-fiber cereal can’t top 9 grams of total sugars. The less fiber a grain-based product contains, the less added sugars that are allowed.
Once you’re in the supermarket aisles, a new Heart-Check mark design will make it easier to spot certified products. Or plan ahead by using the My Grocery List tool to create a list of heart-healthy foods. You can print a copy or download it to your mobile device.