A wide variety of heart-healthy food can be certified. Heart-Check Food Certification Program enhancements and category expansions 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 nutrition requirements allow for moderate levels of these fats while placing strict limits on saturated fat and trans fat. Research shows that replacing saturated fats with unsaturated fats may reduce risk of cardiovascular diseases.
In 2011, the Heart-Check program expanded into two important food categories: Nuts and Fish with higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids. Certification of these foods wasn’t possible when the Heart-Check program launched in 1995 due to regulatory constraints.
In January 2014, additional program nutrition requirements went into effect. Highlights include:
- Revised category-based sodium limits
- Additional food category-specific requirements for dietary fiber, total sugars and calories
- Products containing partially hydrogenated oils are not eligible for certification.
Here are more details:
- Lower sodium levels for most food categories: The American Heart Association recommends that people aim to consume less than 1,500 mg of sodium a day. To help your clients/patients get there, sodium limits were lowered for nearly all Heart-Check certified food categories.
The Heart-Check program takes a categorical approach to sodium. One of four sodium limits applies depending on the particular food category: 140 mg, 240 mg, 360 mg or 480 mg sodium. See the Sodium Limits by Food Category.
This categorical approach makes it 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 Heart-Check program has additional food category-specific requirements for dietary fiber, total sugars and calories. 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 additional requirements.
While these food categories reflect a wide range of added sugars, these foods can also deliver nutrients of public health concern. Therefore, establishing dietary fiber, total sugars and calorie requirements allows for the certification of foods that can contribute important nutrients without contributing excess calories from added sugars.