What is it?
Many products in stores now have a health star rating (and more will continue to get one) which is a tool to rank them based on their nutritional content. The scale starts from half a star and goes to 5 stars. The more stars, the more nutritional the products. The idea is that it makes healthier choices easier to spot when comparing products. It is easily spotted and understandable.
The system will be reviewed in 2016 (2 years after implementation) to assess its impact on consumer choices and health. It is optional for manufacturers to use the health star rating and display it on their products or not.
What is the rating based on?
The products will be ranked based on their makeup of kilojoules, sugars, sodium and saturated fat. These 4 components were chosen as the criteria due to their known impact on the risk for lifestyle related disease, such as type 2 diabetes. The content of these nutrients is then compared with the content of vegetables, legumes, nuts or fruit.
What does it look like?
An example of the health star rating is below. As discussed earlier, it displays the energy, saturated fat, sugar and sodium content as well as the overall star rating. The system also chooses one additional “good” nutrient to display, such as protein or in the example below, fibre.
Image sourced from: healthstarrating.gov.au
The nutrient contents must be for 100g, 100ml or per specified serving. The example above is based on 100g serve, as indicated in the lower right hand corner.
What about the %DI?
Prior to the health star rating, manufacturers have opted to use %DI. This is displayed as a table that or within the nutrient information panel and tells you in percentages how much that product counts towards your daily nutrient recommendations e.g. 20% of your recommended, daily sugar intake.
This system has been in place for a while now yet I think most people don’t know what to make of it or how to use it, leaving them confused or more commonly ignoring it all together.
The pros and cons
- CON: Unfortunately it is very difficult to apply one system to all groups of foods. For instance, healthy fats and oils (100% fat) with low fat cereals. The heart foundation tick, for example, has many categories and criteria that will be suited according to the products. Unfortunately, the tick tends to get ignored as well.
- PRO: nuts and dairy products have special consideration when receiving their health star rating. This is so they don’t get a poorer rating based on the naturally higher amounts of fats they contain.
- CON: Unfortunately the rating does not take in to consideration many other aspects of the products, it is merely a glimpse. For instance, how processed it is or if it is a wholefood, what beneficial micro nutrients it contains, how many additives are presents or if it is produced locally. This rating could be compared to the Body Mass Index as a measurement, they can both be useful tools as a rough guide but are best used with further investigation – there can be a lot of valuable information overlooked.
- CON: The health star rating also disregards portion size. All products are compared based on their weight e.g. 100g or 100ml which is good in some respects. However, we would not eat nearly as much peanut butter as we would drink soft drink so there can be exceptions.
- CON: As it is a voluntary guide, many manufacturers will likely opt to go without the rating on their products. It probably isn’t a very appealing option if your product only gets a 1 star rating!
- PRO: It can still be useful as a guide when comparing similar products e.g. cereals
Contact us for results focused nutritional advice
This article was written by our dietitian Belinda Elwin who is a Dietitians Association of Australia member and Accredited Practising Dietitian and Nutritionist. If you have questions about healthy eating, make an appointment. We‘ll provide you with a simple and effective routine targeted to your concerns. Contact us today.