Thursday, May 24, 2007

Heart and Stroke's Health Check Pushes Sodium and Calories

Boston Pizza put out an excited press release yesterday detailing their new partnership with the Heart and Stroke Foundation's Health Check program.

Apparently 6 menu items qualify for the vaunted Heart and Stroke Foundation Health Check.

I decided to look at the ones in the press release:

  1. Lemon baked salmon fillet - with no sides it's 550 Calories, with seasonal vegetables you're up to 790 calories. Add in the slice of garlic toast and now we're at 980 calories. Salt wise we're at 800mg with the vegetables and 1,180mg with the garlic toast.

  2. Parmesan lime shrimp skewers. Presumably this is an appetizer. Calorie wise it's great - 60 Calories. Salt wise it's atrocious at 770mg.

  3. California pizza. Individual size we've got 590 Calories and not too bad on the sodium at 350mg (but we'll come back to this number in a moment). Split a small with your spouse and now you're at 640 Calories and wait a sec, 1,160mg of sodium.

    How can that be?

    Half a small weighs less than the individual size pizza. Something's wrong with the numbers here. Looking at the sodium content of all the other permutations of California pizza and then using sodium content per gram of pizza, by weight it looks like the individual number's way off on sodium. Calculated by weight in your individual Health Check'ed California pizza instead of 350mg, you'll be having closer to 1,674mg of sodium!

  4. Garden greens. It's tough to knock salad. 130 Calories, 150mg of sodium.

  5. Pollo pomodoro spaghetti. 440 Calories and 690mg of sodium.

  6. Thai chicken wrap. This one I couldn't find. Looking at other thai chicken wraps online most are over 500 Calories.
So why am I harping on this?

Let's say you decide to go to Boston Pizza and you see the Health Checks scattered over the menu. You decide to "eat healthy" and order the garden greens and the lemon baked salmon fillet with seasonal vegetables. You also order water to drink and pass on the included piece of garlic toast and dessert.

Let's do the math.

Calories: 130 + 790 = 920 Calories
Sodium: 150mg + 800mg = 950mg of Sodium

Now here's the kicker. Just over two weeks ago the Heart and Stroke Foundation put out a press release entitled,
"Reducing salt intake would eliminate hypertension in one million Canadians"
In it they report that,
"Physician visits and laboratory costs would decrease by 6.5 per cent and 23-per-cent fewer treated hypertensives would require medications for control of blood pressure if Canadians reduced their sodium intake by an average of 1840 milligrams a day"
The same press release also reports that the average Canadian consumes 3,100mg per day therefore a reduction by 1,840mg would bring that down to 1,260mg per day.

Therefore the person eating the Heart and Stroke Foundation's own Health Checked food recommendations above is getting almost a full day's sodium with the fish and salad and roughly half of their day's calorie requirements.

Good thing they didn't choose to split a small Health Checked California pizza with their spouse or have the Health Checked shrimp skewers as an appetizer as then they'd have easily sailed clear over the Heart and Stroke Foundation's TOTAL recommended daily sodium intake.

To further hammer home the irony, here's another few quotes from the Heart and Stroke Foundation's press release,
"Cutting the average Canadian's salt intake by half would eliminate hypertension (high blood pressure) in one million Canadians, double the number of Canadians with adequately controlled hypertension, and save the health-care system $430 million a year"

"The Heart and Stroke Foundation will continue to work with government, industry and other health partners to reduce sodium in our foods, and to remind Canadians of the link between nutrition and risk factors for heart disease and stroke."
So what could possibly motivate the Heart and Stroke Foundation to provide Health Checks to meals with more sodium than the Heart and Stroke Foundation recommends having in a full day?

Money is certainly one possibility.

The Health Check generates a tremendous amount of money for the Heart and Stroke Foundation. If you want to see how much it costs to buy the rites to a Health Check endoresement click here, but to give you a flavour, here are the "maximums" for licensing fees,
"1. Food Category Maximum: Reached when a company has fourteen (14) or more product formats in a given food category (ranging from $16,500 to $49,500) depending on the size of the market the product line is available.

2. Corporate Maximum: Reached when a company has four (4) or more Food Category Maximums (ranging from $66,000 to $180,000) depending on the size of the market the company products are available
Frankly this is so egregious I hope that somehow I'm wrong. I hope that somehow the Heart and Stroke Foundation's Health Check folks were able to have Boston Pizza completely reformulate their recipes for their Health Checked items and that the nutritional information posted on Boston Pizza's website just needs updating.

The thing is though, I don't think I'm wrong. If you go to the Heart and Stroke Foundation's Health Check's restaurant criteria page you find that it's acceptable to them for "Large Entrees" to have up to 1,300mg of sodium! More than a total day's Heart and Stroke Foundation recommendation according to the Heart and Stroke Foundation's own press release.

Furthermore, regardless of whether or not the sodium in fact has been reduced, and despite the Heart and Stroke Foundations very vocal calls to action on obesity, calories have never been part of the Health Check's concerns. Consequently Health Check's avoidance of Calories will cost Canadians down the line because with the Health Check sliding its way into restaurants, Canadians will be lulled into a false sense of security on Health Checked foods and will happily be consuming over half their day's calorie requirements at the explicit recommendation of the Heart and Stroke Foundation.

Strange world we live in.