What Does the Health Star Rating Really Mean?
The health star rating system is found on the front of products and is intended to be a form of guidance on the nutritional value of the product. Understanding this system and how it can help you is great for understanding the food you're eating.
When it comes to the food we eat, there are certain nutrients we need more of which means understanding food labels is essential for eating a balanced diet. The health star rating on the front of packaged food relates to the energy the food will give you in proportion to the nutrients it contains. It also takes into account ingredients that could increase your risk of certain chronic diseases.
The health star rating system on packaged foods is intended to help consumers understand how food can impact health by helping them to understand things like saturated fat and other nutrition information, supporting a better diet for all.
The heath star rating system is designed for food manufacturers of packaged foods and is a voluntary system, meaning you won't necessarily see it on all products. This nutritional profile can be used to ensure that the foods you are buying are helping you to make the right choices for your health so look out for it where you can.
We've been taking a look at the health star rating system and we've gathered some answers about what it is, why we need it, how it is calculated, and how it can affect the way you shop for food. To find out more, keep reading now.
What is the health star rating system?
So, what is the health star rating system?
The health star rating system was developed by Australian state and territory governments along with industry, public health, and consumer groups. It was designed for easy comparison of the nutritional composition of similar packaged foods.
The rating system awards packaged foods a score from half a star through to five stars. The more stars a product has, the healthier it is. The system is designed specifically for the comparison of similar foods, not for comparison across foods.
The health star rating system is not intended to replace good nutritional advice that recommends eating a balanced diet rich in whole foods, like grains, brown rice, wholemeal pasta, fruit, vegetables, and healthy fats like olive oil and sunflower oil. The system, instead, is designed to cut down the task of comparing nutrition labels and give consumers a way to glance at products and know which one would be more nutritionally beneficial.
There are two different displays of the health star rating system that you will see on packaged foods. The first is the simple star rating, and the second is the star rating with added information.
The health stars that a product is awarded are related to core food groups, positive nutrients, risk nutrients, and how they all work together in the body. To find out more about why the system was designed and how the ratings are calculated, take a look further down this post.
Why do we need a health star rating system?
The health star rating system was developed in response to the rising levels of obesity in Australia and around the world. The idea of the system was to create a simple way to show the nutritional values of products to support people following a more balanced and healthy diet.
With the rise of obesity and other chronic conditions like heart disease, stroke, and diabetes, the focus has been shifted to preventative measures - namely, eating a whole and balanced diet. With the health star rating system, more people are making the choice to eat 'positive nutrients' over those that increase the risk of obesity and other chronic conditions.
The star display system makes the nutritional comparison as visual as possible and eradicates the need to pour over nutritional labels to work out which of two similar packaged foods would be best for you.
It is particularly useful for people choosing snack options as it can help you to choose the best of two. Whether it be popcorn, potato chips, an energy bar, or a chocolate bar, the health star rating system allows you to understand which of the two would offer you more nutrition with the calories you would consume.
The health star rating system may also be useful in helping people to make more healthy choices on a regular basis. If they know that one snack is better for them than another similar product, they might be more likely to go back to that product, because they know it is better for them.
How are the health star ratings calculated in the food industry?
The star ratings are calculated by Food Standards Australia New Zealand along with nutrition and industry experts. The calculation uses an algorithm that factors in positive and risk nutrients. The health star rating calculator is available online in Excel format for those who require it.
Food manufacturers who choose to use the health star rating system are responsible for working out their own health star ratings and applying them to products. The ratings are based on energy (kilojoules), saturated fat, sodium, and sugar content, and fibre, protein, fruit, vegetable, and legume content.
The calculations take all of these properties into account to work out which products and ingredient combinations are best for the body.
Foods high in risk nutrients, like sugar, saturated fat, and sodium, are more likely to be awarded fewer stars and these nutrients put you at more risk of chronic conditions when consumed too much. Foods with more fibre, like granola, oats, wholemeal pasta, and wholewheat crackers, will likely have higher ratings as fibre is essential for a healthy digestive system.
How do health star ratings affect me?
Health star ratings don't necessarily affect the way you shop but they are put onto packaged foods to try and adjust the foods you buy. If you see the health star rating on a product you intend to buy and notice that it is quite low, you might be inclined to find a similar product with a higher rating.
The health star system is meant to encourage better consumption of packaged food products to reduce unhealthy diets that cause obesity and other chronic conditions. Food regulation of this sort is an advertising tool, designed to change the way you shop.
Where will I see the health star rating?
Health star ratings are only found on packaged food products. Food products that are not expected to display the star rating system include:
- Fresh unpackaged foods
- Non-nutritive condiments (like vinegar, herbs, and spices)
- Single-ingredient foods that are not eaten on their own (like flour, sugar etc.)
- Foods where a nutritional panel is also not necessary
You will also not find the health star rating on foods and beverages that have been excluded from the system. These include:
- Alcoholic beverages
- Formulated products for infants (baby formula)
- Formulated sports food
- Food for special medical purposes
The health star system is a completely voluntary system for food manufacturers that sell packaged food in shops. The system does not need to be applied and if it is, the manufacturer is responsible for the calculation of the star rating that will be displayed on their products.
How does the health star system fit into a healthy and balanced diet?
When it comes to eating healthy foods, most people are likely to need a bit of help choosing - the health star rating system can do this for you with packaged food.
The system uses the basis of a balanced diet and the kinds of foods and amounts of these foods you need each day as the basis of its calculation. This means that if a product has a high star rating, it has lots of the good stuff you need with little of the bad stuff.
Choosing more products that have higher star ratings is an easy way to ensure that the packaged foods you are eating are not the cause of an unhealthy diet or any unhealthy weight gain. By knowing which of the two products is better for you, the health star rating system is helping you to make better choices about the food you consume.
Though only available for packaged foods, the idea with the system is to support more understanding of food. Lots of health star ratings come with the panel of more information. This extra information covers nutritional values and the more you look at this label, the more you will understand what is best in food.
This, in turn, should help your understanding of nutritional labels, in that you can see where you want higher values and where you want the values to be lower. If you know as much as possible about what you're putting into your body, you can ensure that you're putting in the good stuff.
What is a healthy diet?
A healthy diet is generally thought to be one that provides your body with all of the nutrition it needs to function properly. The current, best-recommended diet is one that is mainly plant-based and is filled with lots of whole foods.
A healthy diet will consist of more whole grains and fewer refined grains. This means choosing wholemeal pasta over white pasta, and brown rice over white. It will also consist of lots of fruit and vegetables that will up your vitamin and mineral intake, will contain some healthy fats, from nuts and seeds as well as olive oil and sunflower oil, and will be low in red meat and dairy products.
A healthy diet isn't the same for everyone but it will consist of similar things. The more whole foods you eat, the more nourished your body will be and the better it will function.
The health star labels used on packaged goods across Australia help consumers to compare similar products and understand their nutritional values in comparison to each other. The label is used voluntarily on packaged goods sold in shops and is not a replacement for valuable nutritional information but is an easy way to quickly understand how good or bad a product is for your health.
The rating system was designed in response to the rise in obesity in the country. It is meant to help people understand more about the food they eat and how different nutritional values can be good or bad. It is usually displayed as a star rating and will sometimes offer extra nutritional information.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is considered a good health star rating?
A good health star rating is a five-star rating. The higher the number of stars the better the product is for you. The health star rating system takes into account positive and risk nutrients and the stars are rewarded based on the numbers of these nutrients in the product. The health star system is used to compare similar products and should not be used to compare different products.
Are health star ratings true?
Health star ratings are voluntarily put on the front of packaged goods by food manufacturers. The manufacturers are responsible for calculating their own star values. The health star system is based on nutritional information and an algorithm that uses the values of positive and risk nutrients in a product. The idea is that the more positive nutrients in a product, the better the score. Health stars are helpful to compare between similar products and should give an accurate rating of each product.
Why the health star rating system is flawed?
The health star system takes all of the nutrients in the product into account but some unhealthy products may still get high ratings because of the values of positive nutrients they have. Understanding the nutritional value panel is the best way to get around this. By knowing where the unhealthy values are coming from, you can counteract this in the rest of your diet.
What is a 2-star health rating?
A 2-star health rating would suggest that this product, in comparison to other similar products, is not the best option. This is because it only has two stars out of five and, therefore, contains lots of risk nutrients. If a product has a two-star rating, it may be worth looking for a product with a higher rating and therefore a higher nutritional value.