Health Stamps, Marks and Numbers

Heart-Check Mark. From the nonprofit American Heart Association, this mark is found on hundreds of products that meet guidelines for heart health. They must be low in saturated fat and cholesterol and meet other criteria regarding sodium, fiber and additional nutrients. Desserts no longer qualify for the mark, due to their added sugars. Foods that don’t carry the mark are not necessarily unhealthy—they may just not be part of the voluntary program, which costs companies thousands of dollars. Canada’s Heart & Stroke Foundation endorses a similar red “Health Check” mark.

Whole Grain Stamp. From the nonprofit Whole Grains Council, this stamp distinguishes products that have at least eight grams of whole grains per serving. To qualify for the “100% Whole Grain” stamp, a product must contain all whole grains—and at least 16 grams of whole grains per serving. The daily goal for most people is 48 grams. Don’t confuse this number with the grams of carbohydrates or fiber listed in the Nutrition Facts box. The program is voluntary and has a fee.

NuVal. This food-scoring system—developed under the guidance of independent researchers—is found on some supermarket shelf tags. It uses a complex formula to evaluate the overall nutritional value of foods, based on the presence of healthy attributes (such as vitamins, minerals, whole grains and fiber) and the absence of unhealthy ones (trans fat, sodium, added sugar and more). It adjusts for energy density, the quality of fat and protein and other factors. Foods are ranked, by category, from 1 to 100. Blueberries and broccoli, for instance, get a 100 score; pasta ranges from 11 to 91, depending on the type and brand. If your supermarket does not have NuVal, you can find a list of food scores at nuval.com.

Other supermarket programs, including Guiding Stars and Healthy Ideas, similarly rank the nutrient density and overall healthfulness of foods. NuVal and these other programs close loopholes so that food companies can’t pass muster if they simply fortify junk food.