The American Heart Association’s (AHA) heart-check mark that has been on grocery-store products for 17 years is now extending to the restaurant industry, with a certain sandwich chain paving the way.
Last month, Subway became the first restaurant chain to participate in the AHA’s Heart-Check Meal Certification program, a two-year pilot program in which menu items that meet the required nutritional criteria can display the AHA’s Heart-Check mark.
“Subway is very proud to be the first restaurant chain to receive this certification,” says Lanette Kovachi, R.D., senior corporate dietician at Subway. “We look at this as a third-party endorsement and as an extra opportunity to educate consumers regarding healthier options. It’s not just us telling our customers that we have healthier choices; now it’s the AHA, a trusted organization, delivering that message”
The program is based on various nutritional criteria, including limits for calories, total fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, trans fat, and sodium. It also includes a minimum level of one of six beneficial nutrients. Subway qualified by fortifying breads with nutrients and fiber, setting strict calorie and fat criteria, reducing sodium by nearly 30 percent in FRESH Fit sandwiches, removing artificial trans fats, and offering a large variety of sandwiches that are low in saturated fats and cholesterol.
“Most consumers are uncertain what most certifications mean, but find them reassuring and positive elements on packages if they are relevant to the category or brand proposition,” Greg Prang, senior ethnographic analyst at the Hartman Group, a Bellevue, Washington–based consumer insights firm. “Placing certifications next to menu items can help to extend a halo of healthfulness for a foodservice provider. So in the consumer’s mind, adding a heart-healthy symbol just works to extend the health halo (image is everything…), since freshness is a cue to healthfulness.” 
I can still remember the Subway ad campaign from several years ago that featured a man named Jarrod who lost around 200 pounds by eating strictly from the Subway menu. It’s important to note though that Jarrod cut his daily calorie consumption from 10,000 to 2,000 per day. This is the reason for the weight loss; portion control! Subway just benefited from his story.
It must be pointed out that only a limited portion of the menu meets the AHA Heart-Check criteria. You can still make poor choices at Subway, but in their defense at least they give you decent options if you are in a pinch for food. The main reason the Fresh Fit menu is a positive in my mind is that it creates awareness about how much you are truly eating. I think most people would be overwhelmed if they knew how many calories they consume when eating outside of the home. In fact, I conducted a real world experiment with a few teenage athletes a few years back. Before I leave the topic of Subway if “fresh” means you get your avocados from a plastic tube, than yes, Subway has “fresh” food.
On the topic of eating out we recently returned from a vacation on the west side of the state, Traverse City in particular. I have become fascinated with what is known as the farm-to-table restaurant. The idea is that the chef and his staff source most of their raw ingredients locally from farmers and artisans (cheese and bread makers for example). On the west side of the state (Traverse City, Grand Rapids, Fennville) this philosophy is much more prevalent than it is in southeast Michigan. Access to an abundance of farm fresh food is the primary reason but it is also a point of pride as well. I won’t get into to much depth here but even after that experience the best and most nutritious meals are the ones cooked in your own home with ingredients you purchase from the farmer’s market and pick from your own garden. I say this due largely to the sheer volume of the restaurant business. They are limited in their ability to serve 100% fresh local ingredients that are prepared with care and attention. Some places come very close, in fact I am going to start a new blog committed to the subject, but it’s never as good as traditionally prepared home cooking.
With the increased popularity of farmer’s markets and locally sourced food it’s apparent that the quality of the food we consume is important to us.
To prove it, research firm Mintel recently released a study showing that just over two-thirds (67 percent) of Americans choose healthier foods to stay well.
"Consumers are more aware than ever of their own nutritional deficits and what poor eating habits can do in terms of their long-term health," says John Frank, category manager of CPG good and drink reports at Mintel. "As a result, today's consumers are seeking out healthy food with greater urgency. However, skeptical or confused consumers aren't likely to pay a premium for healthier food, making it hard for manufacturers to justify investment in nutritional/ingredient upgrades."
Some 31 percent of consumers choose healthy foods to lose weight and 30 percent do so to maintain weight. Mintel's report shows that the fact that these percentages are fairly similar across all age groups illustrates how widespread the interest in healthy eating is.
This creates a growth opportunity for retailers, as they can create their own private label versions of healthier products to generate higher profits, fill a growing need of consumers, and also reinforce a retailer's identity in the marketplace.
Based on Mintel's research, as age increases, so does the likelihood that adults are maintaining a mostly healthy diet. Nearly half (48 percent) of Americans 65 and older say they pay close attention to how they eat compared to only 32 percent of 18-24-years olds. Nearly one-fourth (24 percent) of the 65 plus age group (the highest percentage of any demographic) say they do not exercise at all. This could be a principal reason for their healthier eating habits, as that is their main way of controlling their weight and health.
"Younger adults generally still feel invincible and have a more naturally active metabolism, making it easier to maintain their weight," Frank says.
Mintel research also reveals that women tend to think that they know what's good for them more so than men. Sixty-seven percent of men think themselves as a good judge of what healthy foods are versus 76 percent of females. Perhaps that's because 64 percent of women say they read nutritional information on products, while only 56 percent of men do the same. It also appears that Americans are trying to create healthier children, as 67 percent of women and 57 percent of men claim to eat healthy food more often to set a good example for their kids. 
Eating out is a wonderful social exercise and if you are in a pinch getting a decent sandwich from Subway is a better option than getting a bucket of KFC with biscuits for dinner. That said, home cooked meals prepared with seasonal ingredients are the ideal way to deliver great tasting food and robust nutrition to your family and friends!
This is What Happened To Jarrod…