Heart-Check is a symbol that you may (or may not) notice on some food products at the supermarket. It’s supposed to help you know that the food meets AHA’s guidelines for a food that can fit into a heart-healthy diet.
Subway is the first restaurant to include the Heart Check it’s offerings that meet the AHA’s new restaurant menu item criteria. For menu items to carry the Heart-Check, they must follow these nutritional limits:
Calories - 700 calories or less per the entire meal
Total Fat - 3 grams or less total fat per 100 grams, and 30 percent or less calories from total fat in the meal, and 26 grams or less total fat per the entire meal
Saturated Fat – 1 gram or less saturated fat per 100 grams, and less than 10 percent calories from saturated fat in the meal, and 5 grams or less saturated fat per the entire meal
Cholesterol - 20 milligrams or less cholesterol per 100 grams, and 105 milligrams or less cholesterol per the entire meal
Trans Fat – Less than 0.5 grams trans fat per the entire meal
Sodium - 900 milligrams or less sodium per the entire meal (through June 30, 2013); 800 milligrams or less sodium per the entire meal (starting July 1, 2013)
Beneficial Nutrient - 10 percent or more of the Daily Value of one of the following nutrients per the entire meal: vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium, iron, dietary fiber or protein
Which Subway Sandwiches are Heart-Healthy?
Subway sandwiches that qualify for the Heart-Check are part of their Fresh Fit offerings. They’re 6-inch in size, on 9-grain wheat bread, topped with lettuce, tomatoes, onions, green peppers and cucumbers, and more importantly, without sauce. A complete meal from Subway could also qualify if it includes apple slices in place of chips or cookies and water instead of soda or other sugary drinks. Subway’s sandwiches bearing a Heart-Check include:
-Black forest ham: 290 calories/830 mg sodium
-Oven roasted chicken: 320 calories/640 mg sodium
-Roast beef: 320 calories/720 mg sodium
-Subway Club: 310 calories/880 mg sodium
-Sweet Onion Chicken Teriyaki: 380 calories/900 mg sodium
-Turkey breast: 280 calories/810 mg sodium
-Turkey breast and black forest ham: 280 calories/820 mg sodium
-Veggie Delite: 230 calories/ 310 mg sodium
While the calories, fat, saturated fat and cholesterol are well within reason for Subway’s offerings, sodium isn’t, as sandwiches that have 800 mg or more sodium make it essentially impossible to meet AHA’s sodium limits for an entire day. AHA may need to communicate to consumers that eating out once a day is all that you should do if you want to have a heart-healthy diet.
Supermarket foods that qualify for the Heart-Check icon must meet the following criteria:
- 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 (and label serving)
- Cholesterol: 20 mg or less
- Sodium: 480 mg or less (also per label serving); 600 mg for main dish products
- Beneficial Nutrients: 10% or more of the Daily Value of 1 of 6 nutrients (vitamin A, vitamin C, iron, calcium, protein or dietary fiber)
- Unsweetened popcorn is the only certifiable product in the snack category.
- No desserts are eligible for certification.
- Beverage certification is limited to milk, dairy alternatives (such as soy milk, rice milk, and nut milk), drinkable yogurts, fruit juices and vegetable juices.
Where Heart-Check Skips a Beat
The Heart-Check program is designed to help us make better food choices but also for the AHA to improve its bottom line. Companies pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to have the Heart-Check on their labels as they know it helps to sell and market their products to a growing number of health-conscious consumers.
However, I would suggest that the best way to eat a heart healthy diet is to eat in more and eat out less. If you are going to a sandwich shop, Subway is a good place to start and ordering from the Fresh Fit menu is smart. However, a 700 calorie limit is very high and is too much for most US women to eat for a meal. A 600-calorie limit makes more sense. Also, 900 mg of sodium is more than half of the 1,500 mg sodium limit that AHA recommends for many. If you eat out and enjoy 900 mg at one meal, there better not be much sodium in anything else you eat for the rest of the day.
And where are the limits for added sugars as part of AHA’s restaurant menu criteria? The AHA has the strictest guidelines for limits on sugars as part of their dietary guidelines so why not make them part of the Heart-Check criteria? Each of the Subway options above provide about 8 grams sugar (2 tsp) which is not anything to worry about. But considering that AHA has set a limit of 25 grams (6 tsp) of added sugars total per day for women, each of these sandwiches provide 1/3 of your daily added sugar allotment.
To me, the AHA restaurant meal criteria have skipped a few beats—and I’m hoping it’s not because the AHA is looking at the bottom line more than the overall health of the public.
At the supermarket, sticking with fruits and veggies, lean proteins and natural, wholesome foods (most would not have the funds to carry the Heart-Check symbol) is best for your health. If you’re making processed food picks, then you might want to look for those within the category that carry the Heart-check icon but don’t assume that if a food has the Heart-Check icon, that it needs to be part of a heart-healthy diet.