Ensuring my children have a well-balanced and nutritious diet is my highest priority. Most of our food decisions are well thought out. I completed a nutrition unit at uni and I know how to read a Nutrition Information Panel. However, there are times when I'm shopping in a hurry and my children ask for random snacks and I need to make a quick decision. Or I see a new product I want to try but I can't stop to read the label. It's at these times the Health Star Ratings on food can be really helpful.
Until recently I didn't know a lot about the Health Star Rating system (first implemented Australia in 2014) so I thought I would share what I've found out and how the foods in our pantry rate, especially the kid's snack and lunch foods! This post is sponsored the Health Star Rating Campaign.
It's not surprising that Australia has one of the highest rates of obesity in the world with 63% of adults and one in four children being overweight or obese. We know that choosing foods that are higher in positive nutrients and lower in risk nutrients that are linked to obesity and diet-related chronic diseases; (saturated fat, sodium (salt), sugars and energy), will help contribute to a balanced diet and lead to better health. Most products carry a Nutrition Information Panel which provides important information about the contents of the food but consumers, busy parents, need more. We need a simpler way of making choices.
The Health Star Rating provides an easy way to compare similar packaged food to help consumers make healthier food choices.
The Health Star Rating system ranks food products on a scale from half to five stars - the more stars the better the nutritional choice within a particular product category. It is important to note the Health Star Rating does not apply to all foods, it does not apply to fresh fruits and vegetables. As a rule, if the product is packaged and has a Nutrition Information Panel it can have a Health Star Rating.
Under the system, packaged foods are given a star rating based on their nutritional profile including;
- Energy (kilojoules).
- Risk nutrients - saturated fat, sodium (salt) and sugars.
- Positive nutrients - dietary fibre, protein and the proportion of fruit, vegetable, nut and legume content.
For example, if you are choosing bread, the bread with more stars should be a healthier option than the one next to it with less stars. Even when it comes to snack foods or 'sometimes foods' we can make healthier choices by choosing a similar product with more stars on the label. If the product you are looking at doesn't have the Health Star Rating it's still possible to seek a healthier option by comparing the Nutrient Information Panels.
The Health Star Rating is currently voluntary, so not all products are labelled yet, however, there is evidence that food manufacturers are reconfiguring their foods (less salt, less sugar), to get more stars which has the potential to make improved health outcomes to our population.
The Health Star Rating wasn't intended as a complete guide to healthy eating. It is intended for and can help us make healthier food choices within categories, to find a healthier cereal, muesli bar or frozen meal. We need to eat a balanced diet and this includes eating from the five food groups every day and following The Australian Guide to Healthy Eating. I recently printed, laminated and put up this guide for the boys, it's a good reminder for me too!
Over the weekend Caspar (9 yrs) and I took a quick look at some of the packaged products we have in our pantry. We noticed that our peanut butter, muesli bars, crackers, and some other packaged snacks had the Health Star Rating on them. Our crackers and peanut butter already had five stars, one type of muesli bar had 4 stars and my husband's breakfast cereal had 4.5 stars, which was so good to see! However, we still have a few products that don't have the star rating on them. Our bread had a nutrient panel but no stars. So next time I go shopping I'm going to make some more comparisons and see if we can find healthier alternatives!
We can all make healthier choices by using the Health Star Rating system to compare the overall nutritional profile of packaged food products at-a-glance. I'm going to try these tips next time I go shopping;
- Look for the Health Star Ratings on the front of packaged food products.
- Use the Health Stars Ratings to compare similar food products. Remember, the more stars, the healthier the choice within product categories.
- Use the nutrient information to choose products that contain less sodium, saturated fat and/or sugars.
I encourage you to have a look in your pantry, cupboard or refrigerator and see what products have the Health Star Rating! Let me know how they rate!