The health star system has sure sparked a lot of conversation in the media. How do we use it? Is it accurate? Why don’t all products have it?
You would think that the Health Star Rating system would make it easier to choose healthier products, but when you pick up two products like juice and milk, it just makes things even more confusing! Who would have thought that orange juice would have been a healthier alternative to milk? Isn’t juice high in sugar?
Relying on these Health Star Ratings are not always a great idea if you’re trying to choose healthy products off the shelf, that is, if you don’t fully understand how these stars have been rated. Let us explain! The Health Star Rating system is great… if you know how it works.
The Health Star Rating system is used for packaged products (i.e. NOT your fruit and veg). Star ratings can vary from ½ star (least healthy) to 5 stars (most healthy). You have probably noticed that not all packets contain the stars. That is because it is voluntary, meaning that the company who makes the products can choose whether or not to include it on the packaging. The stars are passed on the products nutrient profile, which is calculated using a specific ‘Health Star Rating calculator’. Stars are based on total energy (or kilojoules/calories), saturated fat, sugar and sodium (salt) per 100g or 100mL, for the specific food category. For example, the sugar target will be different for yoghurts compared to fruit juice.
If you have done your maths correctly, you have probably noticed that energy + sugar + saturated fat + sodium = 4 stars, right? That’s because companies can choose the final category to be assessed, whether it’s fibre, protein, iron e.t.c. In other words, if a company knows that their product is high in fibre, it is more likely to choose this as the final calculation to give the product a better chance of getting another star (sneaky business).
AAAAAND, to confuse you even more, stars are modified based on the ingredients list, taking in to consideration the2 fruit, nut, vegetable and legume content of the product.
One IMPORTANT thing to remember is that the stars are comparing SIMILAR products only. For example, comparing one breakfast cereal to another, NOT a breakfast cereal to a tub of yoghurt. This is important if you are choosing a snack. If you are tossing up between a muesli bar and a yoghurt, don’t rely on the health star system to give you the answer. Instead, put your label reading skills to use and determine for yourself!
If your brain doesn’t hurt from reading that, then you are magnificent. For the rest of us, let’s summarise! The Health Star Rating system is great for comparing SIMILAR products based on nutrient value, however you should not completely put aside your label reading skills. In total honesty though – label reading is hard work if you don’t know what you’re doing. If you want to become a master of label reading, book in with us, bring along some packets, and we can run you through it!
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