This week the Heart and Stroke Foundation’s Health Check program announced that it is ending. I’m sure you’re all familiar with that red check mark on certain products at the grocery store – the check mark that indicates these products are supposedly good for you.
Well, soon you won’t be seeing them anymore because the program is ending, giving the reason that it is “no longer the right program for the time”.
And I wholeheartedly agree.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big supporter of efforts to get people eating healthier. But when it comes to symbols and nutrient claims, though they have good intentions, they’re sending out the wrong message.
Because the bottom line is that they promote packaged foods over whole foods.
Tomatoes, basil, garlic, and onions – all healthy whole foods – don’t have symbols and claims on them. A jar of Heart Smart Prego pasta sauce has a Health Check. Homemade pasta sauce is obviously going to be a whole lot better for you, but consumers will be persuaded into buying that pasta sauce because a) it’s apparently “healthy” and b) it’s quick and easy.
People get won over by the symbols and claims on the package, and then they totally overlook the nutrition facts table and the ingredient list. But no matter what the front of the box says, it’s always a good idea to turn it over and check out the ingredients and nutrition facts table!
If you turned over that jar of sauce you’d see sugar as the 3rd ingredient on the list, and the nutrition facts table would tell you that half a cup of the product has 10 g of sugar. Now some of that is natural from the tomatoes themselves (yes, vegetables contain sugar!) but I’d throw out a guess that at least 5 g of that sugar is from added sugar. The World Health Organization’s draft guideline on sugar intake recommends that sugars should contribute less than 5% of your total daily calorie intake for the best benefits, which is about 25 g. So if you have half a cup of that pasta sauce, that’s 1/5 of your daily sugar intake right there (add that to the sweetened yogurt, breakfast cereal, and Starbucks latte you had earlier in the day, and you’re probably already way over 25 g!).
My other beef with health claims and symbols is that it doesn’t even consider the other junk in the product. Take a look at Healthy Choice Gourmet Steamers, which have the Health Check symbol. But what it doesn’t tell you on the front of the package is that along with your dinner, you’re also getting soy protein isolate, sodium phosphate, and carrageenan. So lots of additives, but not a lot of real food. One of these dinners has only a measly half cup of vegetables and about 50 g of chicken. A healthy choice? I’d think again. You’d be much better off making your own stir fry from real, whole foods.
That’s really what it really all comes down to: eating whole foods. And we don’t need health claims or symbols to know that those are good for us!
What are your thoughts?