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Does ‘Heart Healthy’ Mean Low Sodium? Not With These Soups

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STUDIO CITY (CBSLA.com) — If you’re trying to watch your salt intake, figuring out which foods to stay away from can sometimes be tricky. But you’d think food products with the American Heart Assn.’s “heart check” certification would be good for you, right?

CBS2’s health reporter Lisa Sigell says you might be surprised.

When Katie Valdes,  a registered dietitian from Altadena,  read the nutritional facts, did the math and measured out the serving sizes on these Campbell’s Healthy Request soups certified by the American Heart Assn., what she discovered alarmed her.

That’s because one serving — half a cup of these “heart healthy” Campbell’s soups — contains 410 milligrams of sodium, almost three times what the American Heart Association lists on its own website as “low sodium” — 140 milligrams or less per serving.

“No one is going to open up a can of soup and measure a half a cup for dinner,” Valdes says.

That has health-conscious consumers confused. The American Heart Assn. recommends an average of 1,500 milligrams of sodium or less per day.  One can of soup — about 2.5 servings, according to Campbell’s label — with its own heart healthy check mark could eat up nearly that entire amount.

“If you turn over and read the label more, ‘heart healthy’ says low in saturated fat and cholesterol and it doesn’t say anything about sodium, but for a product to be heart healthy it should be low in sodium as well,” Valdes said.

But the heart association says food does not have to be “low sodium” to be heart-check certified.

Now a class-action lawsuit has been filed against Campbell’s and the heart association seeking a change on the labels and  compensation for consumers who they contend bought the soup under false pretenses.

“The issue here is about whether a major, major food company in the United States, as well as a leading heart health organization, can lie to the American public,” said attorney Adam Levitt, who brought the class-action lawsuit.

So just how do companies get that heart-healthy rating?

They pay for it.

Manufacturers pay about $3,000 for the heart-check certification check.

“I believe that when a company pays for their product to be endorsed, that there’s a conflict of interest there,” Valdes said.

The American Heart Assn. says the lawsuit is without merit.

“The claim in the lawsuit is inaccurate and false and not even plausible. Our Heart-Check Mark helps consumers make smarter choices about the foods they eat. It is not deceptive or misleading,” said Dr. Rose Marie Robertson, the heart association’s  chief science officer.

In the end, Valdes says health-conscious customers can’t rely entirely on heart-healthy endorsements

“You really need to take the time as a consumer to turn it over and take the extra one to two minutes in the grocery store to really look and become a label reader,” Valdes said.

Campbell’s says the allegations in the lawsuit are without merit and that its labels are in compliance with all legal requirements.

Anyone interested in joining the class-action lawsuit should contact Adam Levitt, the lawyer behind the case, at (312) 214-0000. Also, the American Heart Assn. produced a video response to the lawsuit, featuring Dr. Rose Marie Robertson, the group’s chief science officer. That video can be seen below.

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