Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Heart and Stroke's Health Check has a Heart-on for French Fries

Does this seem right to you?

Bottom right corner of those French fries is indeed the Heart and Stroke Foundation's Health Check.

Wait, so what's a Health Check again?

It's the seal of approval granted by the Heart and Stroke Foundation after a product's manufacturer applies to Health Check for the seal, meets some weak and frankly outdated nutritional requirements, and then pays them money.

According to Health Check,

"Health Check makes healthy choices easier by helping you to quickly identify products that can contribute to a healthy and balanced diet. This program is suitable for everyone in your family aged four years and over."
Show of hands here - anyone other than the Heart and Stroke Foundations' Health Check folks think French fries in any form contribute to a "healthy and balanced diet"?

And what about the application of the Health Check to a potato product?

Is there any risk in eating a lot of potatoes?

The answer is certainly yes.

It's a certainty firstly because a full 40% of total Canadian vegetable consumption come from potatoes, with a full half of those potatoes being consumed in fried form. Of course what that means is that 20% of the total amount of vegetables consumed by Canadians are in fact French fries.

Wait a second, aren't fried foods bad for your heart and isn't the number one condiment for French fries, salt?

It's a certainty secondly because ample evidence exists to suggest that high potato consumption has risk. Potatoes increase blood sugar and insulin levels nearly as fast as pure white table sugar which is potentially why in a 20 year study looking at 84,555 women there was an increased risk of type II diabetes in women with higher potato consumption.

Wait a second, doesn't diabetes dramatically increase the risk of heart disease?

Dr. Walter Willett, the chairman of nutrition at Harvard since 1991, the second most cited scientist in the history of clinical medicine and arguably the most important nutritional epidemiologist in the world has this to say about potatoes in his exceptional book, Eat, Drink and be Healthy,
"More than two hundred studies have shown that people who eat plenty of fruits and vegetables decrease their chances of having heart attacks or strokes, of developing a variety of cancers or of suffering from constipation or other digestive problems. The same body of evidence shows that potatoes don't contribute to this benefit. Potatoes should be an occasional food, eaten in modest amounts, not a daily vegetable."
So at the end of the day here we have the Heart and Stroke Foundation encouraging the consumption of a vegetable that has roughly the same impact on blood sugar as spooning white sugar into your mouth, that increases the risk of type II diabetes and therefore heart disease and strokes, and that has been proven to NOT possess the health benefits that other vegetables do, and to top it all off, the Heart and Stroke Foundation is endorsing that the consumption of this vegetable be in the form of French fries.

So what's Health Check for again,
"The Health Check™ symbol on food packaging is your assurance that the product contributes to an overall healthy diet."
So French fries contribute to an overall healthy diet? Is this bizarro world?

Some might argue that at least the Health Checked French fries are lower in calories and trans fats than other brands - but frankly that still doesn't make a Heart and Stroke Foundation endorsement justifiable. That'd be like having the Lung Association endorse less bad cigarettes.

Don't get me wrong, I, like so many Canadians, greatly enjoy French fries from time to time, but where the Heart and Stroke Foundation and I differ is that I certainly don't kid myself (or innocent Canadians) for a second into thinking I'm making a healthy choice.

I wonder what the heck they're smoking over there at Health Check?

At the Health Check website there's this statement about what trusting the Health Check to guide your choices can be compared with,
"It's like shopping with the Heart and Stroke Foundation's dietitians."
Perhaps it's time for them to hire new ones.