You may have noticed during your shopping trips that some products have badges on them advertising how many stars their product has out of a possible 5 – but what does it all really mean?
This system, which is currently voluntary and being rolled out here in Australia is supposed to help consumers better identify which products are ‘healthier’ than others. It ultimately endeavors to indicate how well a product does in limiting energy, saturated fat, sodium and total sugars while giving credit for any fruit and vegetable content and in some cases also dietary fibre and protein content.
However, no system is perfect and unfortunately this one is far from it.
For starters, the manufacturers themselves are trusted to determine their product ratings themselves using an algorithim that considers the above-mentioned nutritional criteria. Logically, some manufacturers will work within (read: manipulate) this system to maximize their star rating, not to mention that there is potential for downright dishonesty in entering false nutritional data to manipulate the end result.
One such perfect example of working the system is Milo which if analyzed through the calculator on it’s own would only get 1.5 stars. So, how does it get a 4.5 star rating on its tin!? Apparently because you mix one level tablespoon into 200ml skim milk – who does this!? More like 2-3 heaped tablespoons to 200ml milk! You can see though how a 4.5 star rating could lead people to believe that Milo itself is a healthy product.
Furthermore, products are analyzed within ‘categories’ and though a product may achieve a 5 star rating compared to it’s competitors – this still doesn’t mean it’s necessarily healthy.
- In the ‘Beverages other than dairy’ category, a sugar-free apple juice scores 5 stars when you compare it to other beverages such as coke or ‘fruit drinks’ that have added sugar, but this 5 stars is quite misleading and should not be taken to mean that apple juice is a ‘healthy’ product or one to be consumed daily.
- It’s long been known that consuming juice is totally unnecessary for a healthy diet and in fact, can be quite the opposite.
- Juice is considered a ‘free sugar’, just as in coke or confectionary – it should therefore be limited and only had on occasion.
- Some butters or margarines will appear to be ‘healthier’ under this star rating than Extra-Virgin Olive Oil as olive oil is extremely energy-dense which brings its ratings down. This is of course terribly misleading as there is no way that margarine can be considered healthier than olive oil when you look deeper into the nutrient profile of these products!
So, by all means use the star system to guide your purchases – but please understand that like all systems, there are approximations, simplifications and compromises that have been made to attain a uniform and workable rating system.
The key thing to remember: 5 stars does not necessarily indicate that the product is healthy – but that it is healthier than the other products in that category – noting that even this is sometimes not quite true!
This mini-article was adapted from Life Nutrition’s ‘Healthy Choices Supermarket Tour’ resource book (30+ pages of valuable info!). So, if you’ve enjoyed this mini-article, please book a tour with us!