So much is being talked about the bad influence of foods being marketed in countries like the US, consumers are in a blind when it comes to choosing a food which is good for the health. From time to time sporadic attempts are being made to differentiate good foods from the not so good ones with symbols and icons, none of them found satisfactory or fool proof so far. The term "junk foods" which has been coined to describe products with high calories and low in nutrition are increasingly getting hold of the lives of people who can afford only these foods with lower price tags compared to nutrient dense foods like fruits, vegetables, whole cereals, lean fish, milk and milk products etc which are priced out of reach of most people of lower income bracket. In a democratic country it is difficult to wield the proverbial stick to force the food processing industry to make only nutritionally superior foods while the consumers crave for foods which are palate friendly. After all business interests cannot be expected to continue with operations which are unable to bring in money as a return on their investments. Voluntary efforts and gestures can at best be of marginal value only with practically no impact. Under such a situation where will the consumer go for help while buying the food needs in the aisles of super markets and grocery shops for getting any clue regarding the health value of a plethora of attractively packed products staring at him from the shelves?
Going into the fundamentals of good health, humans require about 2000-2500 kC from the food consumed every day for survival and carrying on day to day activities under a decent living style regime. But besides calories there are other crucial needs for a variety of nutrients which cannot be made by the body. These include essential amino acids from proteins in the diet, essential fatty acids, micro nutrients like vitamins and minerals and dietary fiber. It is practically impossible to derive all these nutrients from any single food and therefore nutritional experts always advice to follow a food regime based on diverse food materials with each one of them providing varied nutrient factors in required concentrations. Processed food industry will never be able to deliver all required vital nutrients in a single food, however good the product may be. On the other hand man knows lot about negative role played by some of the natural food components like sugar, salt, saturated fat and many non-natural ingredients used by the processing industry to develop good tasting foods. Assuming that the processing steps that are necessary to make a finished food product from the raw materials are efficient enough to pre-empt unsafe contaminants, only issue that needs to be focused is the relative nutritive value of the finished product. Any method or system that strives to categorize foods into healthy ones can only focus on the relative concentration of the constituents like sugar, saturated fat, sodium, dietary fiber, trans fats and cholesterol.
American Heart Association (AHA) which has been doing yeoman service in providing valuable inputs to American people for protecting them from some of the common diseases like CVD, Blood Pressure, Kidney Health and others caused by inappropriate dietary habits, is active in the field of food certification to help the industry as well as the consumers to progressively bring about a qualitative change in the food system in that country. Their "Heart Check Certification" system which is slowly becoming an industry standard is a reliable way to guide the consumer for selecting the most healthy ones from an array of products available in the market place. Under this program levels of constituents like total fat (less than 6-5 gm per serving), saturated fat (1 gm or less and 15% or less calories from saturated fats, trans fats (less than 0.5%), cholesterol (20 mg or less), Sodium (less than 480 mg), beneficial nutrients (10% or more of DV in case of one of the 6 like Vitamin C, D, C, Calcium, Protein or Dietary Fiber) in a product will decide whether it is eligible to receive the iconic certification. It is difficult to include every parameter that may be relevant in a certification program like this and some critics feel that the qualitative aspects of fat and protein have not been factored properly in this method though further refinement of this system can be expected based on emerging experience in future.
There is a veiled criticism that AHA takes money from the industry for awarding the certificate and this might be influence the decision when products are submitted for certification. However one must appreciate the fact that world wide no certification agency undertakes product assessment free of cost as testing involves costly inputs which will have to be met from the fee charged. Another issue is whether AHA has the wherewithal to do follow up vigilance work which only can ensure that those awarded the Health Check Certificate once, will continue the good manufacturing practice to turn out products consistently conforming to the standards of AHA. These are the pitfalls of all certification programs but it still gives a broad idea about the healthiness of products for the consumers to make the buying decision easier.