October 9, 2014

Social media interest in healthy eating is rapidly increasing, with many different opinions connecting and dividing groups. As with any faceless communication, it brings about nasty comments and sabotaging behaviour along with constructive conversation.

The Heart Foundation has come under fire recently, particularly with regard to its Tick program. Under this program food manufacturers are encouraged to change recipes to meet strict standards. “To earn the Tick, food manufacturers have to meet tough nutrition standards and follow strict promotional guidelines. There are over 50 different categories. Depending on the product category, the nutrition standard sets criteria for things that are relevant to that category. These can include saturated fat, trans fat, kilojoules, salt, fibre and calcium.”

This sounds quite wonderful. Unfortunately, the program relies on food manufacturers paying a licence fee which allows for assessment of the products, an agreement about how to use the Tick, and random ongoing auditing. This licence fee ensures that only large companies can afford to pay.

If that was the only issue, then it wouldn’t be a problem.

The big problem is that the general public sees the Tick on a product and assumes the product is healthy for everyone. This is most certainly an incorrect assumption.

The Heart Foundation states that “The Tick is the Heart Foundation’s guide to help people make healthier food choices quickly and easily.” Note the word ‘healthier’. Not ‘healthy’. If the goal was to help people make ‘healthy’ choices, many items with the Tick could not qualify.

Given that the Tick program relies on licence fees to help assess manufactured foods, which by nature are less healthy than fresh whole foods, why not make it a free program where the Tick is awarded to foods which are single-ingredient and have not been manufactured, like an apple?

We’d see the fruit and vegetable section at any supermarket with a giant Tick over it. The same would apply to the meat and dairy sections, and some areas of the deli section and oils aisle would be separated so the Tick could be applied only to single-ingredient or minimally processed products.

Some healthy foods would not qualify under this criteria, of course, but the general public would be better guided to make healthy choices.

Our collective health and well-being would improve and the Heart Foundation’s major goal of finding cures and preventions for heart disease would get closer to being met.

The Heart Foundation are undertaking a Tick Review, surveying the public about the Tick program. If you feel inclined to have your say, it takes only a couple of minutes.

In the meantime here’s a simpler label guide when it comes to shopping for ingredients and foods for your main meals: “Buy mainly fresh foods that don’t have labels!”