Confidence has slowly been fading in the Heart Foundation’s iconic ‘Tick’ program, the nationally recognised seal of approval for healthy food choices.
Plenty has been going on behind the scenes to roll out a new front-of-pack system labelling system, aimed at helping shoppers make informed food choices.
Reminiscent of the system used to rank household appliances by their energy efficiency, the Health Star Rating System awards food products a rating between ½ -5. This algorithm behind the system takes into account energy, saturated fat, sugar, and sodium, as well as positive aspects like protein or fibre.
According to Michael Moore, chief executive of the Public Health Association of Australia, the system makes nutrition information easier and more accessible for consumers. “It’s so straightforward – the more stars, the healthier the food.”
Developed by the Australian, state and territory governments, in association with various industry, health and consumer groups; the system is voluntary for food manufacturers to use. This, according to consumer group Choice; will act as an incentive for manufacturers to improve the nutritional quality of their products.
You may have already seen the ratings emblazoned upon a number of products, with Sanitarium, Nestle, Woolworths, and Coles amongst others adopting the system last year.
Kellogg’s have jumped on board too; recently announcing their whole range of cereals will carry the rating system by the end of 2015. Health professionals have praised the move, as although products like All Bran and Special K range from 4.5 -5, others like Crispix and Coco Pops don’t fare so well.
But according to respected nutritionist Catherine Saxelby, the system is far from perfect. The system is based on comparing foods per 100g, but doesn’t take into account portion size. Although this makes sense for comparison, we eat varying amounts of different foods. As she illustrates in her review, we may only eat a tablespoon or 20g of jam, but a 375ml can of soft drink, yet both are compared per 100g or 100ml.
The system also doesn’t recognise factors like additives, preservatives, or whether the product is locally made.
But whatever your opinion of the system, the bottom line is, something positive is being done to help Australians made informed food choices.
What do you think of the new system?