Why health claims and symbols aren’t health promoting

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.

health check - Copy (2)

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.

Why health claims and symbols aren't health promoting

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?


Filed under nutrition

28 Responses to Why health claims and symbols aren’t health promoting

  1. Wow, that symbol has been around forever! I firstly associate it with cheerios haha! I agree with everything you are saying, symbols can be so deceiving!

  2. Oh yes. All of these fake ‘healthy’ claims really bug me. Especially when a) the products aren’t – like the ones you pointed out – actually as healthy and b) sold at an outrageous price. One of the most ridiculous I’ve seen was plain oat bran labelled suitable for the Dukan diet that was more than twice the price than the organic (!) brand I buy. People who don’t have the direct comparison or – regarding those health labels in general – knowledge might be shelling out lots of money they could have saved. By reading the nutrition labels, trusting their gut feelings and making their own choice of whether it suits their approach to food or not.

    • Chelsea

      Wow that’s crazy! It’s amazing how companies can increase their prices just with simple marketing techniques. Even using the term “natural” helps them jack up their prices, when really “natural” isn’t even a regulated term and doesn’t mean anything!

  3. I couldn’t agree more. The only symbol I truly pay attention to is Nut Free :)

  4. Ugh yes. I’m not even in the health and wellness field, and I hate anything with the words “healthy choice” in it ha. Those dinners are no better than the tv kind right next to it, but people are willing to pay more for them because they think they are. Drives me nuts, so I’m glad that this program is going away!

    • Chelsea

      TV dinners are bad – period! If I’m feeling lazy I’d rather eat a sandwich or omelette or even just a bowl of oatmeal.

  5. I wholeheartedly agree with you, Chelsea! Kudos to promoting healthier eating BUT that extra precaution needs to be taken to ensure that consumers aren’t under the impression that “healthy” packaged products are a suitable alternative to WHOLE foods! It’s scary how much crap has been added to otherwise healthy foods (e.g. the carrageenan is Silk almond milk)!!

    • Chelsea

      Exactly – whole foods always trump packaged!

      Wait, I thought Silk was one of the brands that doesn’t contain carrageenan?!

  6. I haaaaaate labels. My mom is notorious for buying those Lean Cuisines to take for emergency lunches when she doesn’t prep anything the night before and it drives me INSANE. “But they’re only 250 calories!” — yeah 250 calories of complete garbage.

    I’ve always been against the way a lot of food companies advertise their product, promoting things as healthy when they’re loaded with tons of chemicals.

    • Chelsea

      Lol! Yeah it drives me nuts that companies are allowed to portray those frozen meals as healthy… I wish there was more regulation around that!

      When I don’t prep lunch, I throw together cheese and Mary’s crackers and veggies and hummus. Takes literally 5 minutes to throw together and it’s way better than a frozen meal!

  7. I totally agree. My eyes did the biggest roll this weekend when I noticed that crispers are a ‘sensible solution’. ughhhhh

  8. Definitely not disappointed that they’re getting rid of that program! It was so, so misleading. Something with a million different chemicals in it is not a ‘healthy choice’!

  9. Fantastic post, I couldn’t agree more. My favourite label claim is Kraft Peanut Butter touting that it’s cholesterol free. Well I should hope so!!

    • Chelsea


      It’s like how I passed a sign for a Fish & Chips restaurant the other day and it said “We fry our fish with 0 cholesterol”… most deep fried foods are done in vegetable oils, but it doesn’t make it healthy!

  10. YES YES YES. Australia are SLOWLY starting to remove their ‘tick’ on products- it literally was on anything 97% fat free etc- so misleading, especially to the greater community. One of our ‘brown sugar’ brands has a tick on it. Fail.

  11. agreed. people really need to be educated more / educate themselves. gotta be a smart shopper!

  12. couldn’t agree more. You’ve heard me vent about false advertising so I think you know how I feel. Drives me nuts. Just buy fresh food people!

  13. It’s about time someone started cracking down on this. Health Check symbols on Cheerios… yeah, okay.

    Another one that drives me crazy is gluten-free. People assume it’s healthier. If I had a dollar for everytime I heard, “but it’s gluten free!”


    • Chelsea

      Seriously! “Gluten free” doesn’t mean healthier – those products are often way lower in fibre, and way higher in sugar and added ingredients to make up for the lack of gluten in them. Not to mention expensive! You could buy like a 3 month supply of brown rice for the price of one loaf of GF bread haha.

  14. I agree too. Those health checks are the worst -good riddance! I’m surprised it’s taken them this long.

  15. I HATE THE FOOD INDUSTRY SO MUCH! I have WAYYYY too many words and anger about it, I cannot even write it here! UGH UGH UGH UGH!

  16. I think health claims would be great if they were better regulated and if whole foods were promoted more. In this day and age people are going to reach for those convenience foods and they should have guided and informed help in choosing the best options but health claims and front of package labeling is confusing and contradicting.

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