Aim for the stars when selecting packaged food
DISCUSSION over the five-year review by the Federal Government of packaged food labelling, has unearthed problems with the formula used to determine food health star ratings.
Importantly, added sugar is not considered in the formula and the inclusion of a HSR is voluntary.
Health experts are now calling for HSR formula to be reviewed and food labels required to identify added sugar in processed foods.
Dr Christina Pollard, an adjunct research fellow in the school of public health at Curtin University said the big problem is Australians aren't being told how much added sugar there is processed foods.
"For example, a strawberry yoghurt has less strawberries and a lot more added sugar sweetner in it, so what you are actually tasting and getting is added sugar rather than fresh strawberries," Dr Pollard said.
The HSR, which appears on the front of some packaged foods, indicates the nutritional profile of food and assigns it a rating from half a star through to five starts. The more stars, the healthier the choice is the mantra, but this only works when comparing products within the same range.
The problem, as identified by Professor Bruce Neal from Sydney University's George Institute for Global Health, is that 70% of packaged foods contain added sugar, but this is not shown on the nutrition labels as food manufacturers are only required to list total sugars including processed and natural.
Dr Pollard said public health experts want a mandated system that is across all foods, both processed and natural, not just cherry-picked by the manufacturers.
In the meantime, selecting packaged foods with the highest HSR within a product range is recommended.
If there is no HSR on the product, then you will need to read its label, looking for total kilojoules, and then the fat, sugar and salt content. And, Dr Pollard recommends, read the ingredient list.
Better still, regularly eating diets that consist largely of fresh fruit, vegetable, grain, rice, meat, fish, diary, will ensure you are eating healthier.
"Don't eat more packaged foods because of this system. Continue to eat nutritious when choosing between packaged foods," Dr Pollard offers.
The government is encouraging public comment by going online to https://consultations.health.gov.au/population-health-and-sport-division/five-year-review-of-the-health-star-rating-system/user_uploads/five-year-review-terms-of-reference-1.pdf