Nutritionist Rosemary Stanton writes in Online Opinion saying that though she believes the National Heart Foundation (NHF) does an excellent job informing the community about many aspects of healthy living, she has some concerns about their Tick program.
It sets criteria for the content of fat and saturated fat and adds criteria for salt, sugar, trans fat, kilojoules and (where appropriate) dietary fibre or protein.
Foods sold as a meal must also contain a 75g serving of vegetables and there are some other criteria, such as canned seafood must contain at least 50 per cent seafood.
If a food meets the NHF criteria and the company marketing it is prepared to pay a royalty fee, the food can carry the NHF Tick on its label and advertising. The NHF Tick now appears on selected products at McDonalds and a pizza chain.
The Tick makes shopping easier if you are buying processed food as you are unlikely to be motivated to read labels on around 30,000 products in the average supermarket.
The Tick has also forced many companies to reformulate their products to comply with the NHF guidelines.
Products carrying the Tick generally cost more than similar products. Nor do you necessarily get the best deal. Rosemary says a recent check of baked beans revealed a cheaper brand with less salt and fat and just as much fibre as the can bearing the Tick.
Canned fish, cheese, milk, yoghurt and nuts with the Tick may also have no differences from their counterparts without the Tick, apart from a higher price. And why would you four times the price for a product, such as rolled oats, with the Tick?
The Tick program is available for fresh foods, BUT Rosemary says, those without labels have little to gain from it and no padding from cheap additives to pay for it. By promoting so many processed foods, the Tick gives these products credibility when we should be pushing fresh products.
“The Tick program…sets different standards for different foods. These are kept secret, but a meat pie with the Tick is permitted much more salt and fat than would be allowed for canned baked beans or bread or many other products. This often means the Tick appears on foods that are the best of a bad lot, giving them credibility.
If the aim is to reduce salt intake, promoting a pie or a pizza with a high sodium content is not the way to go, even if the product has less salt than others in its category.
There have also been cases of foods bearing the Tick when they are far from good choices. Some margarine spreads with the Tick used to have high levels of trans fats. At the time, the NHF did not have any criteria for trans fats, although evidence of their harmful effects had been available for over 10 years. To be fair to the NHF, when I alerted them to the problem, they withdrew permission for the Tick and set criteria for trans fat. But why hadn’t this occurred before granting the Tick licence?
For companies, the Tick is a marketing exercise. Once McDonalds introduced some healthier products and paid $330,000 per year for them to carry the Tick, the resulting publicity increased patronage. A small number of people bought the Tick meals, but sales of regular burgers and fries increased. The Tick payment was money well spent for the company, but of doubtful benefit for the nation’s health.
For the public, the NHF claim that their own testing shows that people understand that they still need to limit their consumption of foods with the Tick. Their testing may well show this – the results of such tests depend on the questions asked. My own experience, especially with older people, is that they think foods such as margarine spreads with the tick are fine to use and so use them for cakes, biscuits, in mashed potato and even for frying. The Tick gives them no incentive to cut back on what is essentially fat.”
Some important points, thank you Rosemary.