The New Health Star Labelling Uncoded

Nutrition // Chantelle Curtis-Latchford // 17 September 2014

Seeing stars? Have you noticed the star ratings that have started to appear on the front of packaged foods recently? Here we give you the lowdown on what all those stars mean.

What’s with the stars?

The health star front-of-pack labelling system is similar to the star rating system found on washing machines and refrigerators. While food isn’t rated on its ability to be water or energy efficient, it is used to rate packaged foods based on their nutritional profile. The star rating system ranges from ½ star to 5 stars, with 5 stars meaning the product is the healthiest choice.

Stars are awarded based on the nutritional profile of the product. The more calories, saturated fat, sugar and sodium a product has, the less stars it receives. It also takes into account positive aspects of the product including dietary fiber, protein, fruit and vegetable content, and the presence of nuts, legumes and calcium.

Star spotting

The star rating system is currently voluntary and is being rolled out by food manufacturers over the next five years. All packaged, manufactured and processed foods ready for sale can use the star rating system.

The truth is in the stars

No system is perfect so here are the pros:

  • Walking down a supermarket aisle can be confusing with so many health claims like “all natural” and “99% fat free” jumping off food packages. The five star sliding scale makes it easier to work out whether these claims are misleading.
  • The star rating system provides an easy to understand way of comparing two similar products to help you make the healthiest food choice.
  • Compared to the current %DI system the health star system is much easier to understand and provides consumers with more information about the product, making it easier to make the healthiest choice. Manufacturers have the choice to include the health star rating and the %DI value on the front of packaged foods.
  • The star rating system makes it easy to quickly assess the nutritional content of packaged foods.
  • The star rating system may prompt some food manufacturers to improve the healthiness of their products to achieve a higher star rating.

and the cons:

  • The health star rating system is voluntary so it is unlikely that unhealthy products will be eager to jump on board.
  • Star system does not help to identify key nutritional information such as whether the product is low GI, contains important vitamins and minerals, has a high nutrient density or contains valuable probiotics.
  • Does not give information about any additives or preservatives in the product or whether the product is based from whole food ingredients or is very processed.
  • All products are compared on equal weight or volume and not on portion size. This is helpful when comparing two similar products but not when comparing two different products with different portion sizes, which may have the same star rating.
  • Only includes packaged food products. Fresh fruits and vegetables are extremely healthy choices.

Star tracking

The star rating system is a great step to help Australians make healthier food choices. It will be interesting to see whether this system helps to improve food choices and whether this will have an impact on health outcomes, such as obesity in the future. Only time will tell…

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Meet the Author, Chantelle Curtis-Latchford

After meeting someone who has a Master of Science (Nutrition and Dietetics) with distinctions and who lives by the mantra 'Take care of your body. It's the only place you have to live', it's refreshing to discover that Chantelle has a weakness for chocolate. She's the first to admit that no one's perfect, but aiming to be the best version of yourself is wonderful motivation. She keeps fit on four legs and loves horse riding. Read author's full story here

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