Blog 

Here is where I share my thoughts, ideas and opinions about the world of nutrition, food and health. I hope you find good sense, helpful guidance and inspiration to eat great healthy food that makes you feel good.

I write regularly for GI News, an online newsletter for 60,000+ Australasian and International subscribers interested in the glycemic index (GI) and associated health topics such as diabetes, weight loss and a healthy heart. It’s a great read. http://www.gisymbol.com/category/gi-news/

 

08 Jul 2015

Seeing (health) stars on food

Posted by Nicole Senior on Wednesday, July 08, 2015

You may have noticed stars appearing on a growing number of products in the supermarket, but what are they and how can they help?

 What is the Health Star Rating?

The Health Star Rating (HSR) system is a government scheme to help you choose healthier products quickly. It aims to help you make more informed choices and hopefully improve your diet overall. It is a great example of what is called Front of Pack Labelling (FOPL) to help bring simpler information you can easily understand to the front of the pack where you can easily see it when shopping.


 How are the stars awarded?

Companies that choose to add the HSR to their products can use an online calculator that allocates a score according the nutrition information they enter. The score is based on an algorithm that deducts points for adverse nutrients (energy, saturated fat, salt and sugars) and adds points for positive components such as fibre, protein, fruit, vegetable and legumes content, for various categories of food.

 How do you use it?

Simply compare the number of stars when choosing between different brands of the same food; the more stars it has, the healthier it is. Remember that the system was designed for processed packaged foods and lots of healthy whole foods are not packaged and are healthy even though they don’t have stars. Remember that the stars are given on nutrition information per 100g, not serving size so be warned that foods with high star ratings (such as fruit juice) can still contain kilojoules you can over-consume; be portion-savvy.

 Are there any problems to watch out for?

Food is marvellously complex and to try and rate healthiness using a limited number of variables is inevitably an oversimplification. However, this system does a good job of balancing the negatives and positives within a food and is way better than the UK traffic light system that only looks at the negative nutrients. There are still anomalies: for example some fruits and nuts do not score a perfect 5 stars due to natural sugars and fat content whereas some formulated breakfast drinks do. Olive oil loses points for saturated fat content even though it’s healthy oil (all fats and oils contain saturated fat, it is the proportion that is important for heart health). There is a system to report anomalies but some of them will remain and we need a good amount of common sense to judge whether a food is healthy or not.

Can we trust Health Stars?

Although not perfect, I believe the assessment system underpinning the Australian HSR system is the best there is in the world today. Having the complex nutrition information on a food product interpreted for you into a simple star system you can use at a glance is a great thing and I hope many more food products use it. If they don’t, let’s use our consumer power and ask why not.

To hear an interview I did with Gabrielle Maston on the Health Star Rating, visit her website 

For more information, check out the official HSR website