Health star ratings won’t help you make good choices

After some hoo-ha about the Heart Foundation last year, the Australian Government has now introduced a ‘health star rating’ to help you make healthier choices. While this sounds like a good initiative, once again it falls short, focusing on only certain aspects of health and ignoring others.

The main focus of the health star rating is fat and sugar. If a product is low sugar (yay!) or low-fat (boo) then it will earn a high star rating. Take for example this Nestle Soleil yoghurt product, which has a health star rating of 5 – the highest possible. Check out the ingredients list:

SKIM MILK, WATER, FRUIT (7.1%)(PEACH (4.6%), MANGO PUREE (2.5%)), MILK SOLIDS, THICKENERS (1442 (FROM TAPIOCA), 452, 407), GELATINE, FLAVOUR, ACIDITY REGULATORS (296, 331), SWEETENERS (951, 950), PRESERVATIVE (202), COLOUR (160B), ENZYME (LACTASE), LIVE CULTURES (CONTAINS B. LACTIS)

So let’s break this down. Skim milk (low fat dairy) has been shown in studies to contribute to diabetes development and infertility. Sweetener 951 is aspartame – a toxic sweetener that has been associated with many conditions and has been shown in studies to damage your pancreas jut as much as sugar. Preservative 202 is associated with allergy and asthma in sensitive individuals – hardly a health food.

Let’s compare this to Jalna whole milk yogurt. The ingredients are:

Whole milk, cream, cultures.

According to Jessie Reimers, the woman behind the ‘Scrap the Health Star Rating’ petition, this yoghurt only receive 2.5 stars. In my opinion, this is a health food – a full fat dairy yoghurt will provide calcium, beneficial bacteria and protein.

Head over here to sign Jessie’s petition.

health star ratings

There are errors in the formula used for the health star rating that could make it more confusing than helpful.

 

As well as this, many vegetables fall short of a 5 star health rating, including celery, lettuce and pumpkin, which received only 4.5 stars as they fell short of other criteria. Now, it doesn’t really take a degree in science to realize that almost all vegetables trump a low fat flavoured yoghurt, and as a nutritionist I find this appalling.

Source: http://ausfoodnews.com.au/2014/07/16/many-vegetables-fail-on-australias-health-star-rating-system.html

Obviously many of the low rated products are deservedly so, such as Ritz crackers, which received just .5 star. Here is what you’ll find in their products:

UNBLEACHED ENRICHED FLOUR (WHEAT FLOUR, NIACIN, REDUCED IRON, THIAMINE MONONITRATE {VITAMIN B1}, RIBOFLAVIN {VITAMIN B2}, FOLIC ACID), SOYBEAN OIL, SUGAR, PARTIALLY HYDROGENATED COTTONSEED OIL, SALT, LEAVENING (BAKING SODA AND/OR CALCIUM PHOSPHATE), HIGH FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP, SOY LECITHIN, MALTED BARLEY FLOUR, NATURAL FLAVOR. CONTAINS: WHEAT, SOY.

Personally I think I’d rate this zero stars as it contains refined flour, sugar and high fructose corn syrup. This is so bad I wouldn’t even feed it to my chickens. Now you’d think that it would be compulsory right? At this stage, you only have to include a star rating if you want to which means, you guessed it, those companies with products that have rated poorly will not be displaying their stars. I really don’t see how this is helpful to consumers at all.

I wanted to look into the people behind the star rating. According to their website, here are the contributors:

  • Australian Beverages Council
  • Australian Chronic Disease Prevention Alliance
  • Australian Food and Grocery Council
  • Australian Industry Group
  • Australian Medical Association
  • Australian National Retail Association
  • CHOICE
  • Obesity Policy Coalition
  • Public Health Association of Australia

The two that really stand out here are the Australian Beverage Council and the Australian Food and Grocery council. Let’s see what these guys are about.

The Australian Beverage Council is:

‘The peak body representing the collective interests of the non-alcoholic refreshment beverages industry. We strive to actively advance the industry as a whole, as well as successfully represent the range of beverages produced by our members. These include carbonated regular and diet soft drinks, energy drinks, sports and isotonic drinks, bottled and packaged waters, fruit juice and fruit drinks, cordials, iced teas, and ready-to-drink coffees.’

The Australian Food and Grocery Council is:

‘The leading national organisation representing Australia’s packaged food, drink and grocery products manufacturers.’

So why is the industry body that promotes soft drink, energy drinks and juice collaborating on the health star rating? Why are the people with vested interests in selling more pre-packed food allowed to have a say in the health star rating?

When the health star rating was first released, a website rating all foods was put up, but it was promptly removed and replaced with a more generalized site that did not list foods on it. A report by the ABC found that the chief of staff of the person in charge of publishing it, has strong links to the junk-food industry. It is speculated that this is why it was pulled down, as obviously junk food manufacturers (after the public) are the worst off with the new health star system.

To help people reclaim their health, we must stop advocating these refined and additive-laden foods. Studies show that a diet based on whole foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds, meats and eggs is the best way to prevent disease. 99% of the packaged food at the supermarket is bad for you – either being made from refined grains, laden with sugar, high in cheap, refined oils or laced with preservatives and other additives. Those who help people develop and make these foods should not be allowed to contribute to public health initiatives; period.

 

What do you think of the new heath star rating? Do you think it will help us get healthier?