Making Sense of the Health Star Rating – Part 2

Tuesday, 16 October 2018

You may have read our recent article on the Health Star Rating (HSR) system, where we looked at what exactly this system is and how you can use it to compare food products. Now we’ll have a closer look at exactly how the HSR is calculated.

You might be surprised to know there is a pretty lengthy process that food manufacturers go through to calculate a star rating for their products! Calculation is laid out in six steps.

Step 1: Determining the HSR category of the food

Health star rated products are divided into two main categories: dairy foods and non-dairy foods. These two categories are then divided into three groups each.

Non-dairy Foods Dairy Foods
Drinks Milk, dairy drinks (that have enough calcium)
Oils & spreads Other dairy foods with less calcium (e.g. yoghurt & some cheeses)
All foods not in other categories Cheese & processed cheese products (with higher calcium content)

Step 2: Determining the “form of the food”

For most food products, the HSR will be calculated based on that product in the form that it’s sold in. E.g. the star rating for a tub of yoghurt will be calculated simply on the yoghurt and any other ingredients in that tub.

Now this is where things can get a bit confusing. For some foods, like those that need water or other ingredients added before serving (like cake or pancake mixes), this might not be the case. The HSR for these products will be calculated based on the end product that you eat (e.g. the final baked cake, not the dry cake mix). This is called the “as prepared” rule.

Step 3: Calculating the HSR baseline points

Food products are given “baseline” points and then “modifying points”. Baseline points are given based the range of different nutrients the product contains including:

  • Energy (kJ)
  • Saturated fat
  • Total sugars
  • Sodium (i.e. salt)

Baseline points are also calculated differently depending on which HSR category the product falls in.

Step 4: Calculating the HSR modifying points

Once they’ve calculated the baseline score, they adjust the score based on how much fruit, vegetables, nuts and/or legumes are in the product. They also consider protein and fibre at this stage. While considering fruit and veggie content in food products might help some people incorporate more healthy foods, it’s still important to look at how processed a food product is overall, because less healthy ingredients like concentrated fruit juice and coconut are considered “fruits” and “nuts” in this section and can score points.

Step 5: Calculating the final HSR score

The final score is calculated by taking away the modifying points:

Step 6: Assignment of food star rating based on final HSR score

That final score is then converted into a star rating.

 Take Home Message

Overall, it’s a pretty complicated process and what we’ve covered in this article is just an overview. The HSR isn’t perfect and it’s important to remember that products that get a high star rating don’t necessarily contain all the nutrients we need as part of a balanced, healthy eating pattern. Over one third of Australian’s energy intake currently comes from processed foods, so try to stick to health whole foods from the five food groups when you can!

For more information on building healthy meals visit the recipe section of our website. Diabetes NSW & ACT also runs education programs that can help you become a whiz at label reading, call 1300 342 238 or visit our website to book into one of our programs!

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