Food Labels. They have numbers, lots of numbers, and they have claims too. Contrary to popular belief, labels don’t lie and Food Standards Australia and New Zealand have strict labelling laws. They do, however, often mislead consumers. Do any of the following ring a bell? ‘Naturally cholesterol free’ on plant products, ‘98% fat free’ on jelly beans and the most recent I’ve become aware of, ‘Naturally contains the A2 protein’. Not to mention some of the ridiculous serve sizes indicated on products. But at the end of the day, food manufacturing is a business and companies do what they can to engage and prompt purchases.
On a larger scale, there is the Heart Foundation Tick and the current front of pack labelling which lists nutrients as %DI’s for a reference person. Considering we are all individuals and there is no one size fits all approach, this %DI labelling system can be meaningless to the non-reference person. And as the Heart Foundation reviews The Tick (that’s a blog post in itself), another shiny new labelling system is hitting out Supermarket shelves.
The Health Star Rating (HSR) System.
Two months ago I really didn’t understand the HSR, so today I’m sharing with you 5 facts in a hope that you will also understand and benefit from this new system.
1. So what is there HSR system? It is a government-led Front of Pack Labelling Scheme that ranks food products from half to five stars based on their nutritional value. It is intended to eventually replace the current %DI’s currently shown on the front of the packet.
It has three main elements: the rating, an energy declaration and a nutrient content declaration. The latter must include energy, saturated fat, sugar and sodium, with the option of a fifth ‘positive’ nutrient. ‘Positive’ meaning protein, fibre or a specific vitamin or mineral.
2. The rating looks at the nutritional value of the product as a whole.
The amount of times I hear ‘This has so much sugar in it’ each day makes me want to pull my freshly dyed red locks out. It’s time to start questioning where the sugar comes from, and rather than comparing products based on sugar content alone, look at which provides more fibre or more protein. This is exactly what the HSR does. An algorithm is used that awards points on the amount of energy, saturated fat, sugar, sodium, fruit, vegetable, nuts and legumes (FVNL), protein, fibre and for some foods, calcium. It also categories foods so that foods naturally higher in saturated fats such as dairy products, and the overall higher fat content of our nuts and oil are not penalised.
If you want to know more about the nitty gritty detai, click here for Catherine Saxelby’s great explanation and a worked example.
3. It’s really easy to understand.
We have grown up with energy ratings on home appliances and star ratings on hotels, so many of us are aware of what star ratings mean.
4. All products are rated using the Per 100g/100ml reference.
This is great to compare similar products where manufacture serving sizes may vary And well, if you’re standing in the cereal aisle, it’s much easier to choose a product with 4 or 5 stars that read the label of every muesli on the shelf.
The down fall of this? (Yes, no labelling system is perfect.) Only individually-wrapped products as part of a multipack or products intended to be consumed as a single serve can use a per serve reference. This means, for example, a pack of six meat pies from the freezer will only specify per 100g. I don’t know about you, but I don’t eat 100g of pie, I eat one pie. Also, as Catherine point’s out, rating products per 100g/ml rather than serve can end up rating a soft drink as 1 star.
5. The HSR system is voluntary.
Will it be on all products? Well, are companies going to want to place a 1 or 2 star on their product? Probably not. However, as more and more companies embrace the HSR, pressure will increase on competitors to do the same, and no doubt increase the desire to get the best HSR. So, maybe product reformulations are on the cards. Maybe.
So while the new HSR may have flaws, and it does not take into account additives or processing methods (sorry, that’s a sixth fact), I think it’s a positive step in the world of labelling and will prove a handy tool for consumers.