The Health Check program, for the Heart and Stroke Foundation

Saturday, March 27, 2010

*Warning- rant ahead!*

I continue to be amazed and awe-inspired by the ridiculousness involved when Joe Q. Public tries to make healthy food choices. Case in point: The Health Check program run by an offshoot of the Heart and Stoke Foundation.

Take, for example, this can of Homestyle Chicken Noodle soup by Campbell's (in French it's called "Poulet et nouilles grand-mère" warm and fuzzy is that?):

Doesn't this just say "Sunday afternoons, after a long hard play outside in the snow, sitting at mom's table"? Makes you think back to sitting at the table next to your siblings, slurping those noodles up so fast that they hit you in the nose and splashed broth on your face? Then you pass the aisle, see the can and think "Hey, the Heart and Stoke foundation calls this a healthy choice- I can't wait to share this with my own kids". Sigh.

Let's check the ingredient list, shall we?

Chicken broth (water, chicken stock), egg noodles (enriched wheat flour, whole egg), seasoned chicken (contains soy), carrots, chicken fat, salt, yeast extract and hydrolyzed wheat gluten, celery, monosodium glutamate, potato starch, dehydrated onions, chicken flavour, sea salt, dehydrated garlic, beta carotene and parsley.

Um, is it just me, or are there like...1, 2, 3, 4, 5 mentions of chicken in this recipe. It's like they're trying to reconstruct what should have been a really simple ingredient: CHICKEN. It's like putting a leg, a wing a breast and some feet together with some duct tape, hoping to create a whole chicken. Then we see my favourite nutritionless noodles, made with enriched wheat flour. Remember that one? It's the one where they take the grain, strip out everything nutritious to make it light and fluffy, then put a tiny bit back in, just for good measure.

A little further down, we find "yeast extract and hydrolyzed wheat gluten". I couldn't find a lot specifically on those two in combination, but it is my belief that they combine to form MSG. Plus then there's good old fashioned MSG. Feel the goodness...There's also a big banner across the can that says this has 25% less sodium than its predecessor, yet HALF of this can still has 27% of your allowance for the day.

So, you see the Health Check symbol, which the commercials tell us to look for ("It's like shopping with the Heart and Stroke foundation's dieticians!"), in order to find good-for-us food. Awesome. So you find it on this soup (I use that term loosely) and on the side of the label, you find the following explanation. "This soup is low in fat. Choosing foods prepared with little or no fat is part of healthy eating. Campbell company of Canada financially supports the Health Check education program. This is not an endorsement. See"

Could this possibly be a more blatant example of a simple financial arrangement between organizations? This is big business, baby, nothing more, nothing less, and really is in no way surprising when your food comes from a factory and not a farm.

I just had a peek through the criteria for being able to list your product with the Health Check symbol. There is no mention whatsoever of preservatives (like sodium benzoate), chemicals (like MSG, or things that are known to combine and form MSG), simple v. complex carbohydrates and almost no mention of sugar levels.  Forget actually scoring something like the presence of actual VITAMINS or MINERALS.. Things like yogurt and yogurt drinks which are notorious for being LOADED with sugar, have no sugar-based criteria to adhere to. Who do you think writes these guidelines? I'm quite certain they are written in conjunction with, and to please, the companies like Campbell's, Dempster's, Maple Leaf, etc. who financially support the organization.

This arms-length faction of the Heart and Stroke foundation is actually operated as a not-for-profit organization, which to the average person, looks like a government-run program to help people make healthy choices. In a nation with "free" healthcare, it would seem beneficial to help people eat well, no? Well what this is, is a program whereby companies can purchase the right (so long as they meet these "criteria") to use the Health Check logo, and this results in the Heart and Stroke charity being front of mind when Canadians go to spend those precious dollars and make their charitable contributions. "Oh yes, the Heart and Stroke foundation, they're those nice people who help me buy my daily serving of monosodium glutamate. Such nice folks. I'll donate to them."

You know, this has been bugging me for a while. So I thought I would just get on here and rant. But a quick Google search and I discovered a "CBC Marketplace" episode that ran in January of 2008 where they questioned whether or not this program really does what it claims to do. They studied the various products "certified" by the Health Check and of course, the majority fell far short of actually being healthy choices—you know, the ones with vitamins, minerals, whole grains...that old shpeel again. The episode is maybe 25 minutes or so, but let's just say it's got me SO ANGRY I'm not sure I'm even going to sleep tonight. I've gone from thinking that this program is a complete joke, to seeing how destructive it can truly be for folks who are more or less uneducated about nutrition and rely on stuff like that check mark to guide them in the right direction.

One particular expert, a doctor specializing in obesity by the name of Yoni Freedhoff, has been talking about this for years. Check out his Web site, and on the bottom left, you can listen to a call-in show where he talks about how on one hand, the Heart and Stroke foundation has come out to say that Ontario children will live shorter lives than their parents because of metabolic syndrome diseases like high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, etc. However, on the other hand, their own organization is encouraging folks to eat things like this that are void of nutrition and seek to satisfy big food business- not the health of our nation.

I'm going to go cool off. For now I'll just say keep your eyes open. Keep reading those labels.

Oh, and check your cupboards... We do not have much here in the way of processed food, so this was the only thing I found. What ludicrous things did you discover in looking at your "Health Check" food?


Yoni Freedhoff, MD said...

Hi Kirsten,

Thanks for the shout out.

For your readers who might want to learn more about just how incredibly awful, disgraceful and backwards the program is, clicking here will bring them to a link to all of my blog's posts on Health Check.

Fair warning - I'm up to 61 of them.


Alyson said...

Did you know the chicken for soup comes from old egg layers from places like Burnbrae farms here in lyn? Nice to know they use the birds but the meat is from old caged up bird :(

Thanks for your posts. I LOVE them. Because of you I have found organic stock cubes! I normaly make my own and freeze it because for some reason I have a LOT of chicken around here ;) but I now put it in my rice...yummy! I've also made every single recipe you have put up.

love you!

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