By Nathan Charpentier, PharmD – Providence, RI
You may have seen the “Heart Check” logo on food products lately. What does it mean? Is that food item safe or healthy? These questions may come to mind.
Essentially, the “Heart Check” program was established by the American Heart Association (AHA) with the intention of providing consumers with a logo to mark a food as healthy. The accredited foods need to meet the AHA’s “heart healthy” criteria, which include restrictions on saturated fats, trans fats, sugars and salt.
Sounds pretty legit…right?
Yet, some cardiologists and other health professionals claim the “Heart Check” program is more of a scandal than a means of consumer protection, and that it is seriously flawed and biased on political and scientific fronts.
In fact, these claims are rather spot-on. The AHA criteria are based on the “lipid hypothesis” (1976), which advocates a low-fat and high-carbohydrate diet. Aside from it being a nearly forty-year-old, billion-dollar hypothesis, it is widely considered to be discredited. This is because carbohydrate intake, especially the quality of carbohydrate intake, appears to have just as significant (if not more so) a role in blood sugar, insulin, cholesterol, blood pressure, plaque formation and Alzheimer’s as fat. Furthermore, authorities like the World Health Organization (WHO) are reporting that the quality of fat is a much more important focus for health (specifically, things like the ratio of omega 6 and omega 3 fats) than the quantity.
Ironically, many processed foods that fail the AHA’s healthy criteria have a “Heart Check”! These include foods like Bruce’s Yams Candied Sweet Potatoes and Healthy Choice Salisbury Steak, Chocolate Moose Attack Drink (which has more sugar than Pepsi) and an alarmingly large percentage of processed meat products!
So why does the AHA include foods in their “Heart Check” program that exceed their criteria for sugar and trans fat? Experts are alleging it is due to the program’s “big food” funding. For instance, Conagra, Quaker Oats and Campbell Soups, among other processed food giants, have made contributions in the millions. Furthermore, considering the program leaders are also “big food” lobbyists who openly denounce the ideas of evolution (including that of the human diet*), it becomes more clear why these big dollars are not making much sense.
Bottom line, refined and processed products in the majority of cases are much less healthy than their organic, real food counterparts, regardless of the “Heart Check” approval. Please be cautious when choosing your foods. In general, eating a diet of mostly low-glycemic vegetables and fruits, nuts and seeds, lean meats and essential fats seems to still reign as the safest, and most natural, choice around.
*Biologists and anthropologists have noted that the human body has not changed much within the last million years or so. However, within the last ten thousand years (with the advent of farming and agriculture), and especially the last century (with processed foods, fast foods and TV dinners becoming commonplace and incredibly influential on our plates), available food choices from those of our ancestors are radically different, for the worse.
Nate Charpentier, PharmD, RPh has been trained in how to manage health and disease using pharmacological intervention. He believes food is the most important pharmacological choice we make on a daily basis. His website, GrassFedFarmacy.com, is a new start-up for health awareness. He is an active member and coach in the CrossFit community.
Dr. Barbara H Roberts. “The Heart Associations Junk Science Diet” The Daily Beast. May 22, 2014
Katz DL, Meller S. “Can We Say What Diet Is Best For Health?” Annu. Rev. Public Health 2014. 35: 83-103.
Ramsden CE et al. “Dietary Fat Quality and Coronary Heart Disease Prevention: A Unified Theory Based on Evolutionary, Historical, Global, and Modern Perspectives”. Current Treatment Options in Cardiovascular Medicine 2009, 11: 289-301.
Eaton SB, Cordain L. “Evolutionary aspects of diet: old genes, new fuel” World Rev Nutr Diet 1997; 81: 26-37.