This is another follow-up to my previous two posts about sodium and the Health Check label.

The first was about high sodium content of Heinz soups, and the second addressed sodium levels in products with the Health Check logo.

In short, I was driven to correspond with both Heinz and the Heart & Stroke Foundation (who run the Health Check program) after being shocked at the high sodium content of Smart Ones soup. This lead me to identify reporting irregularities in nutrition information posted online. I have received correspondence from both parties that do address this issue. I’ve included copies of both letters below. And for those who are in a hurry, here’s the tweet-sized version:

Sodium labeling is in transition; Special audit in New Year. Watch internet-based nutrition info as Canadian and US recipes often differ.

I’m pretty satisfied from their respective responses. I am also happy that there are efforts underway to reduce sodium levels in processed foods, although I still think they are too high. And I still don’t understand why processed soups have to be so salty. But at least it is becoming less so for some products. I also stand by a point I made in a final response to Heinz: I believe that sodium will be the media and governing bodies’ new transfat.

This does, however, open up a whole new can of worms for me: how are Canadians supposed to get decent nutritional information about the food we eat? If the websites we go to carry information on US foods, and the foods here are different, what are we eating? The US Department of Agriculture has one.

Dare I suggest that the Canadian Government start a nutrition registry? 🙂

From Heinz (and note – they had in fact emailed me sooner than I realized but spam filters kept it out of my inbox)

“Dear Ms Vaino:

I understand from your email below and your blog that you were disappointed by our response to your comment about sodium content in Smart Ones Soups. We interpreted your question more as one about our company’s position on sodium content in foods than about sodium content in one particular product. Please accept my sincere apologies for our misunderstanding.

Smart Ones Soup is positioned as a product designed to help those on the Weight Watchers program adhere to the Weight Watchers Points system and diet plan. For someone seeking a low sodium diet, this would not be an appropriate choice for them. However, for Canadian consumers who are on the Weight Watchers program and are seeking low calorie products, it may be a healthy option. That said, we have been reformulating all our Smart Ones Soups to reduce sodium content; they still won’t be ‘low sodium’ but they will be lower. And we will continue to look for ways to reduce sodium even further without sacrificing taste.

Please note, further to your comment below, Smart Ones Soup has never carried the Health Check logo and at no time did we claim that it meets Health Check sodium requirements.

In your blog, you state “the Health Canada recommended daily intake is between 1000 and 1500 mg”. Actually, Health Canada’s recommendation is between 1500 and 2300 mg, according to their website:
Sodium is needed in the body to regulate fluids and blood pressure, and to keep muscles and nerves running smoothly. The amount of sodium considered adequate to promote good health in adults is 1,500 mg per day. The United States Institute of Medicine (IOM) is commissioned jointly by the USA and Canada to establish the nutrient reference values that are used to set policies and standards. One of these reference values is the Tolerable Upper Intake Level (UL), which is the highest intake level that is likely to pose no risk of adverse health effects. Based on the IOM’s UL, Health Canada recommends that adults do not exceed 2,300 mg of sodium per day. (Source: http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/hl-vs/iyh-vsv/food-aliment/sodium-eng.php)

Heinz is committed to reducing the amount of sodium we add to the foods we make and we have been reformulating products across our entire product offering. Heinz Tomato Juice, which you mention in your email and blog, is a good example of our efforts to reduce sodium on an ongoing basis. Sodium levels are lower this year than they were last year.

It may interest you to know that we produce an entire year’s worth of Heinz Tomato Juice only once each fall and that every tomato we use to make our juice (and Ketchup) is grown by farmers within 100 kilometres of our Leamington, Ontario plant. The Heinz Tomato Juice made in Fall 2010 is just arriving at stores now. This means that today grocery stores across Canada may have product from both the 2009 and the 2010 “fresh pack” seasons on their shelves at one time, until all the 2009 product is sold through.

We make two varieties of Tomato Juice: Regular and 50% Less Salt (compared to our Regular variety). As of Fall 2010, all varieties and sizes except the 284 ml carry the Health Check symbol because both meet the program’s increasingly stringent sodium requirements. The sodium content on the Regular is 480 mg/ 1 cup (250 ml), while the sodium content on our 50% Less Salt variety is 240 mg/ 1 cup (250 ml). Both varieties comply fully with the new Health Check requirements.

As you mentioned, the nutritional content of each variety of Tomato Juice shown on our website reflects the 2009 product. We will be updating the website shortly, as soon as we know that the 2010 product is on shelf in the majority of stores. It is important to note that the Nutrition Facts Panel on every Heinz product matches the actual nutritional content of the product inside.

Thank you for your interest in Heinz Canada and for giving us the opportunity to explain further.

Sincerely,”

From Health Check:

“Hi Elsbeth,

Thanks for your follow-up email regarding Health Check. As I mentioned in my previous email, random annual audits on the products in the program are carried out by and independent lab. Each year approximately 15% of the grocery products are audited and one item from each restaurant in the restaurant program. We have discovered a relatively small number of compliance issues over the years and were able to resolve them with the companies.

The sodium criteria changes that came into effect on November 1, 2010 were extensive. These are the most sweeping changes we have made, with reductions of between 25% – 70% across many categories. Because of the magnitude of these changes we are carrying out a special audit early in the New Year to ensure compliance with the new sodium criteria.

We are still following up with companies to ensure their websites and other sources of information reflect the changes. We are also in the process of reviewing the information on our own website to make sure it is up to date. Although we of course want all information available to the public on websites and other media to be as accurate as possible, this is not the information that is used to ensure compliance. It is the products themselves that are tested and must match the information on the packaging (Nutrition Facts panel and ingredient list).

We appreciate the review you carried out and I sent it to our registered dietitians who have also reviewed it. They did point out that some of the information you reviewed online, for example the Campbell’s and Stagg Chili sites are American websites, not Canadian sites. It is surprising, but the product formulations are often very different between the two countries. Although a can of soup might look the same here as it does in the US, the recipes can be quite different. The products in the Health Check program do conform to our criteria (for example, 480 mg for soup). Your email reminded us how confusing it is to search online for nutrition information that is strictly Canadian and inspired one of our dietitians to blog about it.

I would also like to invite you to be a guest blogger on our new blog as well (http://www.healthcheck.org/blog) given your background and interest in nutrition. If you are interested please let me know and I would be happy to discuss it with you.

Again, thank you for your interest in Health Check.

Cheers,”

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