A wide variety of heart-healthy food can be certified. Heart-Check program category expansions and criteria enhancements are made in response to updated science-based nutrition recommendations and/or evolving federal regulations that result in new categories of foods being allowed to bear a heart-shaped symbol.
The Heart-Check Program Today
In recognition of the role that the better fats (i.e., monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats) play in the diet, Heart-Check criteria allow for moderate levels of these fats while placing strict limits on saturated fat and trans fat.
In 2011, the Heart-Check program expanded into two important food categories: Fish with higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids and nuts. Certification of these foods wasn’t possible when the Heart-Check program launched in 1995 due to regulatory constraints.
Research shows that replacing saturated fats with unsaturated fats may reduce risk of cardiovascular diseases. These program enhancements make it easier for your clients/patients to choose a wider variety of foods that nutrition professionals agree are heart-healthy.
Nutrition requirements effective January 2014: On Jan. 15, 2014, more stringent program nutrition requirements will become effective. Here is the high-level summary (more detailed information may be found below):
- Revised category-based sodium criteria will go into effect.
- Requirements for dietary fiber, total sugars and calories will go into effect for specified food categories to limit excess calories from added sugars.
- Products containing partially hydrogenated oils will not qualify for certification.
- Lower sodium levels for most food categories: The American Heart Association recommends a sodium limit of less than 1,500 mg a day. To help your clients/patients get there, we’re lowering the sodium limits for nearly all Heart-Check certified food categories.
The Heart-Check program will transition to a categorical sodium approach. One of four sodium levels will be allowed depending on the particular food category: 140 mg, 240 mg, 360 mg or 480 mg sodium. See the sodium limits by category.
This categorical approach will make it even easier for shoppers who use the Heart-Check mark to follow a diet that meets the recommended goal of less than 1,500 mg of sodium per day while still achieving balance and nutritional adequacy. It also serves as an aid to make selections that reduce sodium intake over time using a stair-step approach. Since most Americans consume about 3,400 mg of sodium each day, a reduction in sodium intake over time may be necessary for some individuals to reach the goal of less than 1,500 mg per day.
- Limiting added sugars: Too many calories in the average American diet come from sugary foods. Without mandatory disclosure of added sugars on the Nutrition Facts label, your clients/patients may be left puzzled by “Total Sugars.”
The American Heart Association developed requirements for dietary fiber, total sugars and calories for specific food categories. By 2014, certain grain-based products, milk and milk alternatives, yogurt, fruit and vegetable juices, canned fruits and vegetables, and frozen fruit that bear the Heart-Check mark must meet the nutrition requirements.
While these food categories reflect a wide range of added sugars, the scientific data demonstrate that these foods can also deliver nutrients of public health concern. Therefore, establishing dietary fiber, total sugars and calorie requirements promotes the consumption of important nutrients without contributing excess calories from added sugars.