02 Apr Are we being conned?
Food labelling gives manufacturers a great opportunity to sell their product to you at a time when you are ready to buy, at the supermarket.
Words like ‘Natural’ and ‘Goodness’ are often emblazoned on the front of the package in a bold font, whilst the actual nutritional information requires a magnifying glass, good lighting and a relevant degree to decipher.
If you are feeling particularly brave, you could challenge yourself to find a healthy breakfast cereal for the whole family. An inspection of my own pantry fills me with motherly pride when I see my selection of cereals are; high in iron, a good source of fibre, high in whole grains , low in salt, and a good source of omega 3
But, hold on. Does the 4.5 Health Star Rating on my box of Sultana Bran mean it’s better for me than a supermarket brand bag of rolled oats? No, it doesn’t!
If I would like some milk on my cereal, my choices are endless: full cream, Jersey, A2, lactose-free, UHT, heart healthy, soy, organic, fortified, high protein or skim. Which is better for me?
Health Star Ratings
Nearly two years ago the government introduced a Health Star Rating (HSR) system in order to make food labelling clearer, and to make it easier for us to compare products and make informed choices. The Federal Health Department claim it is a success, with 75 companies adopting the system and over 3000 products on our supermarket shelves displaying the Health Star Ratings. However, the ratings system is very obviously flawed in many areas, with both nutrition experts originally employed on the development team dropping out during the progression of the system, saying that the current system had been compromised by the strong influence of the food and grocery industry.
The HSR system, gives the Aussie favourite Milo, 4.5 stars. This rating is worked out by mixing 3 teaspoons of Milo with 200ml of skim milk. If you eat the 3 teaspoons of Milo straight from the tin, it’s rating would drop to 1.5 stars. So the ‘goodness’ you get from Milo actually comes from the milk you mix it with, but the 4.5 stars is proudly shown on the familiar green tin.
Orange juice by The Daily Juice Company has been given a 5 Health Star Rating, yet their new Daily Balance orange juice, which reduces the sugar content by 50% also sees the Health Star Rating dropping down to just 2.5 stars. Surely sugar reduction is the healthier option? Apparently not!
Many nutritional claims made on food labels are unregulated and open to interpretation and sometimes border on pure fabrication. However some claims have industry standards.
Low Sugar – No more than 5g per 100g
Low Fat – No more than 3g per 100g
Low Salt – No more than 120mg sodium per 100g
No Added Sugar – No added sugars, honey, malt or malt extracts.
So how do you protect yourself against falsehoods, marketing gimmicks, and ambiguous health claims? The advice is simple. Buy fresh produce that doesn’t have stars, ticks, nutrition panels or health claims.