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Health food labels: traps and tips

If you’re planning to start the new year with a health kick for you or your family, clue up on the fine print of health food labels with tips from SH dietitian Liz. 

No added sugar. 50 per cent less fat. Cholesterol-free. Clever terms and wording have turned the humble grocery shop into a minefield. But even regulated labels such as the government-developed health star rating (HSR) can have their traps! Here’s how to use it to your advantage.

Is the health star rating a reliable guide to healthier food product choices?

The star rating does reflect a food’s nutritional profile. It is determined by using a calculator based on food components (energy, sat fat, total sugar, sodium, protein, dietary fibre and fruit, vegetable, nut and legume content). The idea is that choosing foods higher in positive nutrients and lower in risk nutrients linked to obesity and diet-related chronic diseases (e.g. saturated fat and sodium) promote better health.

Why isn’t it totally reliable? 

HSR should not be the only guide you use to choose healthier food products. Some highly-processed products are being reformulated to achieve higher star ratings yet are still not ideal choices (Kellogg’s Nutri-Grain gets 4 stars, yet in reality, it is nutritionally inferior to, say, home made porridge with milk and berries). Use the HSR as an at-a-glance guide, but don’t forget to also use nutrition information panels and ingredients lists.  

Remember, broad dietary advice is general in nature. If you are striving for specific health goals, consider consulting an accredited practising dietitian (APD) for personalised advice and recommendations.

Elizabeth About Author

Elizabeth

Dual passions for food and health led Soaring Health dietitian Liz to study dietetics, but what really drives her is seeing the tangible differences dietary changes can make to a person’s health and wellbeing – from managing disease symptoms to sustainable weight loss. With a professional goal to “allow my patients to become the best they can be” by translating nutrition science into practical, realistic food recommendations, Liz has a refreshingly human approach.

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