Eating a healthy, balanced diet is important. Unfortunately, it can also be confusing! The other day, while grocery shopping, I noticed something alarming: A Health Check symbol on a frozen chicken dinner. At first, I thought my eyes had deceived me. They couldn’t possibly endorse such a food; it’s processed! I picked up the frozen dinner and, sure enough, the Health Check symbol was there!

After looking at the Heart and Stroke website, I came to realize that the official standards are not based on organic, raw foods, but instead on nutritional facts. As long as the foods have minimal calories, sodium, and trans-fat, they meet Health Check requirements.  Moreover, criteria are also based on the purchasing patterns of Canadians, and market realities.

What exactly does this mean?

Well, since statistics denote that Canadians tend to eat out at least once per week, the Heart and Stroke Foundation will endorse ‘healthier options’ at fast food locations. For instance, a thin crust chicken pizza at Pizza Hut has the Health Check approval. In comparison to the other pizzas on their menu, the chicken one is indeed a better option, however pizza in general isn’t the greatest. Health conscious customers are led to believe that such an option is diet-friendly, when sadly, it is not.

Health Check criteria asserts that 250 g of pizza must have 17 g or less of fat, 10 g or more of protein and no more than 960 mg of sodium. Such criteria may be good for someone trying to make better choices but again; is it a healthy and nutritious choice?

Now don’t get me wrong. Though flawed, I think that the Heart and Stroke Foundation’s Health Check Program is a good start. Especially, for individuals looking to gradually increase their health and wellbeing. However, it is definitely not the be all and end all. A low-calorie diet consisting of processed foods is just a bad (if not worse) as a whole-food higher calorie diet.

The microwavable dinners endorsed by the Heart and Stroke Foundation (and other healthy option programs) do not contain the calories and nutrients necessary for a healthy and balanced diet, leaving eaters susceptible to a variety of health problems when our diets are lacking important nutrients and when the foods are loaded with chemicals. Eating healthy is not just about low-calorie, low-sodium, and low fat, it’s about organic and/or raw foods; foods that have not been manufactured at a processing plant, and as such contain the nutrients and vitamins necessary to lead a healthy life and even prevent diseases.

What I hope you take away from this article is this: We must not accept endorsements blindly. I gave the Heart Check as an example, but have a look around. There are several “healthy” checks out there from different organization/association that are endorsing the products. Ask yourself this question: who benefits from it? You the consumer; or the person marketing the product?

Food for thought…! We must take our health into our own hands and educate ourselves along the way. Instead of purchasing something (be it while grocery shopping, or at restaurant) because of the Health Check symbol beside its name, read the nutritional facts. Decide for yourself whether the item is healthy or not. Take into consideration the ingredients, how it was made, and the amount of calories, bad fats, and sodium. Gravitate towards raw foods (vegetables, fruits, nuts, and so on), for these are the foods that contain the vitamins you and your family need to achieve optimal health!