Heart-Check Food Certification Program Nutrition Requirements

Updated:Feb 23,2018

The Heart-Check Food Certification Program’s nutrition requirements for certification are based on the sound science of the American Heart Association regarding healthy dietary recommendations including food categories, specific product ingredients and nutrient values.

To be certified, a product must meet specific nutrition requirements. The Heart-Check program has seven different categories of certification, and each category has a different set of nutrition requirements. All products must also meet government regulatory requirements for making a coronary heart disease health claim. When a product is close to exceeding the limits for fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, trans fat or sodium, independent third-party lab testing is conducted to verify that it meets our nutrition requirements.

Most nutrient requirements are per FDA/USDA RACC amounts (RACC = Reference Amount Customarily Consumed or “standardized serving size”). Some are per additional or other measurement amounts as noted with an asterisk below. Main Dish and Meal Products do not have RACC amounts.

Heart-Check Food Certification Program Nutritional Requirements

  • Standard Certification (FDA-regulated products)

    • Total Fat: Less than 6.5 g
    • Saturated Fat: 1 g or less and 15% or less calories from saturated fat
    • Trans Fat: Less than 0.5 g (also per label serving*). Products containing partially hydrogenated oils are not eligible for certification.
    • Cholesterol: 20 mg or less
    • Sodium: One of four sodium limits applies depending on the particular food category: up to 140 mg, 240 mg or 360 mg per label serving*, or 480 mg per label serving and per RACC*. See Sodium Limits by Category for details.
    • Beneficial Nutrients (naturally occurring): 10% or more of the Daily Value of 1 of 6 nutrients (vitamin A, vitamin C, iron, calcium, protein or dietary fiber)

      Additional Food Category-Specific Requirements:

    • Canned Fruits/Vegetables:
      • No “heavy syrup” (including potatoes and sweet potatoes) 
    • Frozen Fruit:
      • 100% Fruit (no added sugar) 
    • Fruit/Vegetable Juice:
      • 100% juice (or 100% juice plus water) with no added sugars/sweeteners (excludes non-nutritive sweeteners) 
      • 120 calories or less per 8 fl oz*
      • 10% Daily Value or greater for 3 nutrients for which a Daily Value exists. At least one of these beneficial nutrients must satisfy the beneficial nutrient requirement listed above.
    • Grain- Based Products:
      • All grain-based products must be a good source of dietary fiber (10% or more Daily Value per RACC), and contain 7 g or less Total Sugars per serving if the product is a good source of dietary fiber (10-19% Daily Value per RACC) or 9 g or less Total Sugars per serving If the product is an excellent source of dietary fiber (20% or more Daily Value per RACC).
      • Sugars from pieces of fruit do not count toward the sugars allowance but amount(s) and source(s) must be disclosed.
    • Grain-Based & Snack Bars:
      • If product used the new Nutrition Facts label format, product must be a good source of dietary fiber (10% or more Daily Value per RACC), and contain 8 g or less of added sugar per serving.
      • If product uses the old Nutrition Facts label format, the requirements for all other grain-based products apply.
    • Milk and Milk Alternatives
      • 130 calories or less per 8 fl oz*
    • Smoothies:
      • 200 calories or less per 8oz or 300 calories or less per 9-20 oz. (upper limit for size)
      • 2 teaspoons (8 g) or less added sugar per servingMust contain at least one serving of whole fruit or vegetable (not including any added juice or puree concentrate, which will be counted as added sugars) or dairy/dairy alternatives (e.g. nut/grain/soy-based milks)
      • Caffeine and other stimulant additives are not permitted. Caffeine occurring naturally in other ingredients (e.g. green tea) is permitted.
    • Yogurt:
      • 20 g or less total sugar per standard 6 oz serving. 
  • Standard Certification "Extra Lean" (meat and seafood)

    • Total Fat: Less than 5 g (also per 100 g*)
    • Saturated Fat: Less than 2 g (also per 100 g*)
    • Trans Fat: Less than 0.5 g (also per label serving*). Products containing partially hydrogenated oils are not eligible for certification.
    • Cholesterol: Less than 95 mg (also per 100 g*)
    • Sodium: One of four sodium limits applies depending on the particular food category: up to 140 mg, 240 mg or 360 mg per label serving*, or 480 mg per label serving and per RACC*. See Sodium Limits by Category for details.
    • Beneficial Nutrients (naturally occurring): 10% or more of the Daily Value of 1 of 6 nutrients (vitamin A, vitamin C, iron, calcium, protein or dietary fiber)
  • Main Dish & Meal Products

    • Total Fat: 3 g or less per 100 g of product* and 30% or less calories from fat
    • Saturated Fat: 1 g or less per 100 g of product* and less than 10% calories from saturated fat
    • Trans Fat: Less than 0.5 g (per label serving*). Products containing partially hydrogenated oils are not eligible for certification.
    • Cholesterol: 20 mg or less per 100 g of product* and 90 mg or less per label serving* for a main dish and 120 mg or less per label serving* for a meal
    • Sodium: 600 mg or less (per label serving*)
    • Beneficial Nutrients (naturally occurring): 10% or more of the Daily Value of 1 of 6 nutrients (vitamin A, vitamin C, iron, calcium, protein or dietary fiber) per the entire main dish or meal
  • Whole Grains with Required Levels of Whole Grain & Dietary Fiber

    • Total Fat: Less than 6.5 g
    • Saturated Fat: 1 g or less and 15% or less calories from saturated fat
    • Trans Fat: Less than 0.5 g (also per label serving*). Products containing partially hydrogenated oils are not eligible for certification.
    • Cholesterol: 20 mg or less
    • Sodium: One of four sodium limits applies depending on the particular food category: up to 140 mg, 240 mg or 360 mg per label serving*, or 480 mg per label serving and per RACC*. See Sodium Limits by Category for details.
    • Beneficial Nutrients (naturally occurring): 10% or more of the Daily Value of 1 of 6 nutrients (vitamin A, vitamin C, iron, calcium, protein or dietary fiber)
    • Whole Grain Content: 51% or more by weight/RACC
    • Minimum Dietary Fiber (from whole grain only): 1.7 g/RACC of 30 g; 2.5 g/RACC of 45 g; 2.8 g/RACC of 50 g; or 3.0 g/RACC of 55 g
       
      Additional Food Category-Specific Requirements:
    • Certifiable grain-based products include breads, biscuits, cereals (ready-to-eat & cooked), crackers, pancakes, French toast, grains (single or multi) and their derivative flours/meals, waffles, muffins, sweet quick-type breads, and pastas. Must be a good source of dietary fiber (10% or more Daily Value per RACC), and contain 7 g or less Total Sugars per serving if the product is a good source of dietary fiber (10-19% Daily Value per RACC) or 9 g or less Total Sugars per serving If the product is an excellent source of dietary fiber (20% or more Daily Value per RACC). Sugars from pieces of fruit do not count toward the sugars allowance but amount(s) and source(s) must be disclosed.
  • Nuts (Whole or Chopped)

    • Total Fat: No limit
    • Saturated Fat: 4 g or less (per 50 g only*) No limit for Macadamia Nuts
    • Trans Fat: Less than 0.5 g (also per label serving*)
    • Cholesterol: 0 mg per label serving*
    • Sodium: 140 mg or less per label serving*
    • Beneficial Nutrients (naturally occurring): 10% or more of the Daily Value of 1 of 6 nutrients (vitamin A, vitamin C, iron, calcium, protein or dietary fiber). Not applicable to walnuts.

      Other:
    • Eligible nuts include almonds, hazelnuts, macadamia nuts, peanuts, pecans, pistachios, walnuts & some pine nuts
    • Added Fats: Less than 0.5 g per RACC
    • Added Carbohydrates: Less than 1 g per RACC
    • Amount(s) and source(s) of added fats and carbohydrates must be disclosed
  • Fish with Required Level of Omega-3 Fatty Acids

    • Total Fat: 16 g or less
    • Saturated Fat: 4 g or less
    • Trans Fat: Less than 0.5 g (also per label serving*)
    • Cholesterol: Less than 95 mg (also per 100 g*)
    • Sodium: One of four sodium limits applies depending on the particular food category: up to 140 mg, 240 mg or 360 mg per label serving*, or 480 mg per label serving and per RACC*. See Sodium Limits by Category for details.
    • Beneficial Nutrients (naturally occurring): 10% or more of the Daily Value of 1 of 6 nutrients (vitamin A, vitamin C, iron, calcium, protein or dietary fiber)
    • Omega-3 Fatty Acids (EPA & DHA): 500 mg or more per 85 g (3 oz cooked)

      Other:
    • Added Fats: Less than 0.5 g per RACC
    • Added Carbohydrates: Less than 1 g per RACC
    • Amount(s) and source(s) of added fats and carbohydrates must be disclosed
    • Fish may be certified under the Standard, Extra Lean or Fish categories, depending on the nutritional profile of the product. 
  • Liquid Vegetable Oils and Oil Containing Products

    • Total Fat: no limit
    • Saturated Fat:
      • For Olive Oil, Corn Oil, Soybean Oil, and vegetable oil blends: 4 g or less (also per label serving*, not per 50g)
      • For Canola Oil: 1 g or less (also per label serving*) and 15% or less calories from saturated fat
      • For Olive, Corn, and Soybean Oil-Containing Products: 2 g or less (also per label serving*)
    • Trans Fat: Less than 0.5 g (also per 50 g*). Products containing partially hydrogenated oils are not eligible for certification
    • Cholesterol: 20 mg or less (also per 50 g*)
    • Sodium: 0 mg for liquid oils. For Oil-Containing Products, see Sodium limits by Category for details.
       
      Other:
    • Must be pure Olive Oil, pure Canola Oil, pure Corn Oil, or vegetable oil blend containing 4 g or more Corn Oil per RACC
  • Grain-based and Snack Bars

    • Total Fat: < 6.5 g per RACC
    • Saturated Fat: ≤ 1.0 g per RACC and ≤ 15% calories from saturated fat
    • Trans Fat: < 0.5 g per RACC and per label serving and no PHOs allowed
    • Cholesterol: ≤ 20 mg per RACC
    • Sodium: ≤ 140mg per serving
    • Beneficial Nutrients: 10% DV of 1 of 6 nutrients: vitamin A, vitamin C, iron, calcium, protein or dietary fiber

      Other:
    • For Old Label
      • Dietary fiber: 10% or more DV per RACC
      • Sugars (total): 
        • 7 g or less per serving if good source of dietary fiber (10-19% DV per RACC)
        • 9 g or less per serving if excellent source of dietary fiber (20% or more DV per RACC)
    • For New Label
      • Dietary fiber: 10% or more DV per RACC
      • ≤ 8g** ADDED sugars per serving vs. RACC (1 tsp. sugar = 4g)
      • Sugars from pieces of fruit do not count toward the sugars allowance
    • FDA Health Claim Language: (exact language) “Diets low in saturated fat and cholesterol, and as low as possible in trans fat, may reduce the risk of heart disease"
    • RACC = 40g (same as new RACC for med.-weight cereals). Per FDA – all bars (protein, snack, nuts/seeds, etc.) fall into same RACC category
  • Smoothies

    • Calories : 200 cal. Per RACC (8oz) or 300 cal. Per 9 - 16 oz. (upper limit)
    • Total Fat: < 6.5 g per RACC
    • Saturated Fat: ≤ 1.0 g per RACC and ≤ 15% calories from saturated fat
    • Trans Fat: < 0.5 g per RACC and per label serving and no PHOs allowed
    • Cholesterol: ≤ 20 mg per RACC
    • Sodium: ≤ 240mg per serving
    • Beneficial Nutrients: 10% DV of 1 of 6 nutrients: vitamin A, vitamin C, iron, calcium, protein or dietary fiber

      Other:
    • ≤ 2 tsp. (or 8 grams) added sugar per serving
    • Must contain at least one serving of whole fruit or vegetable (not including any added juice or puree concentrate; juice concentrate and puree concentrate will be counted as added sugars) OR dairy/dairy alternative (e.g. nut/grain/soy-based milks)
    • Caffeine and other stimulant additives are not permitted; caffeine occurring naturally in other ingredients (e.g. green tea) is permitted.
    • FDA Health Claim Language: (exact language) “Diets low in saturated fat and cholesterol, and as low as possible in trans fat, may reduce the risk of heart disease”
    • RACC category for Smoothies = Dairy Products and Substitutes: Shakes or shake substitutes (e.g. dairy shake mixes, fruit frost mixes) = 240mL OR 1 cup or 8 fl. oz.
    • If product requires additional ingredients to be added in preparation (e.g. milk, yogurt, juice, water) the company must provide a nutrient profile for the finished product and at least one preparation method must meet certification criteria per serving/RACC.
  • Fresh (raw) Fruits and Vegetables

    • Total Fat: 13g or less (also per label serving size* and per 50g* (if the standard serving size is 30g or less)]
    • Saturated Fat: 1.0 g or less and ≤ 15% calories from saturated fat
    • Trans Fat:
      • less than 0.5 g (also per label serving*) Products containing partially hydrogenated oils are not eligible for certification.
    • Cholesterol: 20 mg or less
    • Sodium: 140mg or less per label serving*
    • Other:
      • Nearly all fresh fruits and vegetables that don’t qualify under Standard Certification should meet these requirements (e.g. fresh coconut would not qualify). Dried fruit is not covered in this category and must qualify under Standard Certification.

*Measurement amounts in addition to or instead of RACC

Additional Resources: 

The American Heart Association Heart-Check Food Certification Program is designed to help consumers make informed choices about the foods they purchase. The nutrition requirements are food-based and intended for healthy people over age two. The Heart-Check program is not a dietary solution for any particular condition or disease. People with medical conditions or dietary restrictions should follow the advice of their healthcare professionals.

Food manufacturers participating in the program pay administrative fees to the American Heart Association to cover program operating expenses. No donations are used to support the program.


Heart-Check Program