Have you noticed that more and more foods in supermarkets are labelled with a health star rating?
Health star ratings are being introduced for retail food products in Australia on a voluntary basis for a 5 year period from June 2014 to help you make more informed choices about the foods you, your friends, and your family eat. In principle the rating message is simple – the more stars the better. Foods with more stars are healthier as they have a better nutritional profile than foods with less stars.
The star rating is calculated from a mathematical formula that takes into account three important reasons we need food. Firstly, the energy content. This is the amount of calories or kilojoules the food provides something we are all familiar with. A second important factor is the percentage of plant foods the food contains. Plant foods such as vegetables, fruit, legumes (chickpeas, lentils, beans), and nuts provide a wide range of nutrients, minerals, vitamins and dietary fibre. Thirdly the calculation considers the protein, fibre, salt, sugar and saturated fat content of the food. An easy to use on-line calculator is available to calculate the star rating if you have this information about the food – here’s the link if you’d like to try it yourself.
The new rating system is not without critics, particularly in the general media where some products with notably high sugar contents have higher than expected health star ratings. However, a review of progress on the use of the ratings after the first 2 years found that 2,031 products contained the label and private label brands of Coles and Woolworths accounted for 57% of these. The review also found consumers using the labels find them easier to use and are using them more easily than nutritional panels. Notably all major food brands were progressively applying the star rating to their products and the majority of products had a 4-star health rating.
Despite some inconsistencies and imperfections in the current health star rating system we support the use of a simple and consistent way to better communicate complex nutritional information. One anomaly we have observed is that highly formulated foods can achieve a 5-star health rating whilst we can sometimes struggle to meet this using fresh, natural ingredients. Another shortcoming of the system is that foods are rarely eaten in isolation. Our vegie burgers, although we’ve seen them eaten on their own often, they are more likely to be used with other foods, sauces, buns, or wraps. Communicating this information is more complex and unlikely to be easily transferred to a product label.
If you would like to share your experiences and thoughts on the health star rating system we’d love to have your input to our short on-line survey. Here’s the survey link and feel free to share around and if you would like to receive a complementary free, stylish cooler bag don’t forget to opt in for this at the end of the survey.