Why Step One Foods don’t carry AHA’s heart-check symbols
The American Heart Association was founded by six cardiologists in 1924 with the goal of eradicating heart disease - which was the number one killer of Americans at the time. Nearly 100 years later, it still is. Clearly, no matter what gains have been made, the AHA has not been able to make good on that original vision.
It may have started small, but today's AHA enjoys $1.2 billion in yearly revenues that it uses to fund research, awareness campaigns etc. as well as its own infrastructure. Much of that money comes from donations and fees, but some comes from pharmaceutical and medical device company sponsorships as well as from food companies - who pay to carry the AHA heart-check symbol on their product packaging.
When the AHA introduced the heart-check system in 1995, it seemed to make sense: Customers should have a reliable way to find heart-healthy foods.
So why, in 2023, can you buy ground beef that proudly displays its heart-check mark? Because the AHA has created different standards for what it recommends we do and for what it tolerates food manufacturers doing.
If you look at the product qualifications for one of those trusted red hearts, you’ll start spotting double standards right away: Although their own prevention document actively discourages meat consumption writ large, even processed meats like roast beef and smoked ham are allowed to carry the AHA seal of approval, so long as those products are low in saturated fat and contain no more than 480 milligrams of sodium per serving. But 480 mg of sodium is over three times the sodium content of what AHA considers to be a low-sodium food. Not to mention that AHA says that eating less than 1,000 milligrams of sodium per day may be beneficial.
And you might think that a product in the “whole grains” category would be made up entirely of whole grains to be eligible for the AHA seal. But AHA requires only 51 percent whole grain content to qualify.
As for sugar, some products are allowed to have nine grams of added sugars per serving, even though AHA recommends no more than 24 grams per day for adult women. To put the 9 grams of added sugars into context, that’s the sweetness level of Lucky Charms cereal.
No wonder people are so confused. They’re trying to do the right thing when they choose the heart-logoed products, but instead risk being misled - at least to some extent - by the organization they’re supposed to trust implicitly.
I’m not sure how the AHA got here. It can’t just be because of the financial incentives. Maybe it’s because there simply aren’t enough products that meet their own heart health standards to qualify, so those standards had to be relaxed? But that only serves to dilute the value of the message – and of the messenger. Maybe it's an attempt to reward those foods that are closer to AHA's lofty ideals? I choose to go with this latter, more appealing explanation.
Regardless, as I look at the AHA prevention guidelines, it strikes me that Step One Foods is the company that’s truly taking the spirit and the intent of those aspirational guidelines to heart. We make sure that every single ingredient in every product is as health promoting and as whole as possible. And we’ve validated the positive health effects of eating our foods through rigorous scientific testing.
Which, ironically, is why Step One Foods chooses not to carry the heart-check seal. Because the foods that do… are not even in our league.
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