DALLAS — The American Heart Association’s Heart-Check Food Certification Program is expanding and improving to allow certification of more foods with the healthier fats, including fish, nuts and other foods higher in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. AHA is also revising sodium allowances and implementing screening guidelines to limit added sugars and promote dietary fiber in certified products.

Fish, nuts and other foods that have heart-health benefits, including the presence of “better fats,” monounsaturated and polyunsaturated, are eligible for certification immediately. The updated requirements covering sodium, sugar and fiber will be effective in 2014 to allow food manufacturers time to reformulate their production processes.

“With these enhancements, the Heart-Check program will help consumers easily identify and choose even more heart-healthy foods for themselves and their families,” said Rachel Johnson, Ph.D., R.D., the Bickford Green and Gold Professor of Nutrition at the University of Vermont and an AHA spokeswoman. “The Heart-Check program brings benefits to those companies invested in the health of their consumers. Not only does it add a level of credibility and trust that other programs don’t bring, but certification aligns food products with a leading heart-health organization.”

AHA updated the program to align with the organization’s healthy eating and lifestyle recommendations and priorities identified as part of its 2020 goal to improve the cardiovascular health of all Americans by 20 percent.

The look and feel of the Heart-Check mark is also changing. The symbol now makes it even easier for consumers to spot products certified to meet the AHA criteria, according to a news release. The criteria allows for including foods that are higher sources of “better” fats, while limiting negative nutrients, such as saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol and sodium. The new look will offer more simplified language and strengthen visibility on a product's package.