Scientific research shows that shoppers who read food labels cut about twice the amount of fat from their diet than those who don't read labels, however many consumers do find reading nutrition labels time consuming and very confusing.

The American Heart Association (AHA) are responding to this research with a food label-reading shortcut that identifies low-fat, low-cholesterol foods quickly and reliably.

The association's Food Certification Program and its highly visible red and white heart-check mark are on the labels of hundreds of food products. Products bearing the mark are low in saturated fat and cholesterol and can be part of a heart healthy diet for healthy people over the age of two.

Rebecca Mullis, PhD, head of the University of Georgia's nutrition department and a volunteer member of the AHA's nutrition committee, explained: "Consumers are inundated with health messages and claims on food packages. Many people need and want a quick and reliable way to cut through the confusion.

"The AHA's heart check-mark is the best way to easily find heart healthy foods."

All products certified by the AHA meet the organization's nutrition criteria (per serving):

*Low fat (less than or equal to 3 grams)
*Low saturated fat (less than or equal to 1 gram)
*Low cholesterol (less than or equal to 20 milligrams)
*Sodium value of less than or equal to 480 milligrams for individual foods
*It must contain at least 10% of the Daily Value of one or more of these nutrients: protein, vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium, iron or dietary fiber.

AHA research has shown that dietary changes based on selecting foods low in saturated fat and cholesterol can lower blood cholesterol by between 10-15%. That, in turn, can reduce the risk for heart disease by 20-30%. In addition, eating a nutritionally balanced diet consisting of a variety of foods, including lean meat, fish or poultry, whole grain cereals and breads, three servings of low-fat or fat-free dairy foods and seven to nine servings of fruits and vegetables a day has been shown to reduce systolic (the top/higher number) blood pressure by 5.5 points and diastolic (the bottom/lower number) blood pressure by 3.0 points. That cuts the incidence of heart disease by 15% and the incidence of stroke by 27%.