The American Heart Association (AHA) announced today that it had initiated a new program that it claims will help people choose healthy meals at restaurants. The Subway restaurant chain will be the first to display the Heart-Check Meal Certification logo next to certain selected meals.
In a press release the AHA’s president, Gordon Tomaselli, said the program would make “it easy for consumers to make smart choices that are heart-healthy when eating outside the home, knowing they often don’t have the benefit of reviewing the nutrition facts.” The meal certification program is an expansion of the AHA’s Heart-Check Food Certification program, which was established in 1995.
Tomaselli told USA Today that certification can cost companies as much as $700,000 annually. “But it’s not pay-to-play,” he told the paper. “The money is used to make sure what we’re telling the public is correct.”
The AHA certification logo will be displayed on Subway meals that meet the AHA’s nutritional criteria for levels of sodium, calories, cholesterol, saturated fat and trans-fats. But the new program does not mean that all meals certified by the program will necessarily be heart healthy, as noted on the Heart-Check Meal Certification webpage:
Is it still heart healthy to order my meal with mayonnaise or mustard?
- The standard SUBWAY® 6-inch sandwiches that are part of the AHA (adult) certified meal are prepared on 9-grain wheat bread and contain the following vegetables: lettuce, tomatoes, onions, green peppers and cucumbers.
- These sandwiches were evaluated without the addition of condiments such as mustard or mayonnaise. Adding condiments containing sodium (such as mustard) or fat (such as mayonnaise) may result in the meal no longer meeting AHA meal criteria.
- Condiments such as mayo and mustard add saturated fat, sodium and cholesterol that can easily be avoided. These small choices throughout the day can help keep eating habits on track.
- Additions such as pickles, cheese, and olives also make the sandwich less healthy.
- Considering the freshness of the bread and the flavor and juiciness provided by the vegetables, these sandwiches are tasty without the addition of other toppings or condiments.
Subway said that it had been an AHA supporter for 12 years. On the AHA website, Subway is listed as a member of the Industry Nutrition Advisory Panel (INAP). Here is the mission of the INAP, according to the AHA website:
The American Heart Association (AHA) Industry Nutrition Advisory Panel (INAP) is a strategic relationship between the AHA Nutrition Committee and food industry leaders. INAP provides a platform for sharing information and planning cooperative programs in the areas of diet and nutrition and cardiovascular disease.
INAP industry members pay a $10,000 yearly membership fee to participate in meetings with “science representatives” from the AHA and other industry members. Here is the AHA description of the benefits of membership:
The primary benefit of INAP is bringing together industry and science representatives to exchange dialogues on areas of mutual interest pertaining to nutrition. Benefits of this dialogue include:
- Networking and relationship building with industry leaders
- Education on relevant topics from the nutrition, physical activity, metabolism and obesity areas
- Members get the latest updates on all AHA initiatives and are given the opportunity to provide input to the AHA regarding statements and positions on these topics
- Direct access to AHA staff involved in nutrition-related issues
- An organized relationship with the Nutrition Committee that allows for open communication on topics of interest
Members also receive one complimentary registration to attend the AHA’s spring science conference and council dinner coordinated by the Nutrition, Physical Activity and Metabolism Council (NPAM) and the Council on Epidemiology (EPI).
In addition to Subway, some of the other members of INAP are Uniliver, Coca-Cola, Dr. Pepper, Frito-Lay, Hershey, Kellog, Kraft, McDonald’s, Sara Lee, The Sugar Assocaition, Welch’s, and Yumi Brands (Taco Bell, KFC, Pizza Hut).