Farcical health star ratings system gets facelift

By Leith van Onselen

Over the past few years, I have called for an overhaul of Australia’s dietary guidelines, including Australia’s Health Star Rating System, which has too often ignored the prevalence of sugar while demonising natural saturated fats.

I have also criticised Australian dieticians’ staunch defence of existing failed dietary guidelines that promote a high carbohydrate / low fat diet.

Classic examples of this dietary idiocy are illustrated in the below examples (photographed at my local super market) showing sugar laden foods given healthy ratings, while natural foods containing so-called ‘unhealthy’ saturated fats are given low ratings.

First, consider reconstituted apple juice, which contains a whopping 26.8 grams of free sugars per serve, but receives a 5-star health rating:


Next, here’s a highly processed box of cereal, like the one shown below, which receives a healthy 4-star rating and the Heart Foundation Tick despite containing 23.5% sugar:

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And how about a processed sugary chocolate-flavoured “Up and Go” milkshake, which contains 19.3 grams of sugar per serve, receive a healthy 4.5 star health rating?

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Next, until very recently, Milo received a healthy 4.5 star health rating when it is made up of nearly half sugar:

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And here’s a sugary processed “Roll-up”, which contains 26.7% sugar, but somehow still managed to receive a 3-star rating:

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On the flipside, where is the logic or evidence to support giving natural virgin coconut oil – chock full of beneficial medium chain triglycerides (MCTs) – a half star rating because it is 90% saturated fat:


Or giving natural full fat Greek yogurt only 1.5 stars, because it contains ‘high’ saturated fat (but zero added sugar):

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Back in October, it was revealed that that the Dietitians Association of Australia (DAA) has largely reversed its position:

…these carbohydrate-rich foods cause major fluctuations in blood glucose levels for people with diabetes. Patients are told to manage the flux of glucose in the blood by using medications like insulin, which come with significant side effects.

A more practical approach is to limit the amount of carbs consumed in the diet and therefore reduce the dependence on high-dose medications. Unfortunately, this commonsense approach runs counter to the advice from many “dietary experts” who claim low-carb diets are a “fad”.

The reasons for maintaining this unscientific view have much to do with protecting financial relationships…

In a surprising move, however, the DAA has just announced that it will be ceasing its corporate relationships with food manufacturing and food industry associations by December 31, 2018…

After what seemed to be uncompromising resistance to the latest scientific evidence, Diabetes Australia has issued a new position statement about ‘Low Carb Diets’ for people with diabetes:

“There is reliable evidence that lower carb eating can be safe and useful in lowering average blood glucose levels in the short term (up to 6 months). It can also help reduce body weight and help manage heart disease risk factors such as raised cholesterol and raised blood pressure,” wrote Diabetes Australia.

The statement from Diabetes Australia even suggests that low carb diets may assist people with managing Type-1 diabetes.

As noted in the article, the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA) has also dropped its vexatious sanctioning of orthopaedic surgeon and low cab advocate, Dr Gary Fetke, as well as issued him an apology.

Now, Australia’s farcical Health Star Rating System is also getting an overhaul, demoting sugar-laden foods and promoting those high in natural saturated fats:

A government advisory committee has released a revamped Health Star Rating calculator that attempts to address various problems with the original, from the over-emphasis on protein to the lack of focus on sugar, as part of a five-year review.

The upgraded calculator, if adopted, would slash Kellogg’s Nutri-Grain’s four-star rating to 2.5, Uncle Toby’s Chewy Choc Chip Muesli Bar’s four stars to 3.5, and Zooper Dooper Ice Blocks’ three stars to the lowest possible score of 0.5.

Products that have been unfairly disadvantaged would get some reprieve, especially nutritious plain yoghurts, with Coles’ Greek Style Natural Yoghurt’s 1.5 star rating getting boosted to three.

Looks promising, but doesn’t go nearly far enough. There’s now way that sugary Kellogg’s Nutri-Grain should receive a 2.5 star rating. Nor should Uncle Toby’s Chewy Choc Chip Muesli Bars receive 3.5 stars.

Nevertheless, these changes do represent an important shift away from Big Food and Sugar and should be commended.

As an aside, if you want a clear explanation of the genesis of Australia’s questionable dietary guidelines (which were passed down from the US), make sure that you watch the below presentation by Dr Zoe Harcombe, who wrote her entire Cambridge PhD thesis on the topic:

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Leith van Onselen


  1. It is nothing more than food companies selling high margin junk and being able to call it goo d for you. Go keto and you can ignore these silly labels as you won’t be consuming the crap that the food industry wants to label as healthy.

    Sugar is killing more people than nicotine and causing a greater strain on the public health system.

  2. Yes, still crap system. And likely to stay like that as they are only tinkering with it so they don’t look completely dumb as new evidence rolls in. I hate these little changes when silencing is so wrong, it needs a completely new system, but we won’t get one for decades ,,, until some overseas country changes and we are forced to follow.

  3. I’ve always completely ignored these stupid guidelines, as they were obviously produced by people who were mad, or corrupt, or both. I come from a farming family and all my life my diet has consisted of fresh veges, fruit, meat, fish, eggs, milk, butter etc. All in moderate quantities so that I don’t turn into a fat bastard. Occasionally I’ll buy prepared stuff, like coconut oil and coconut cream because that’s the only way to get it, but apart from that there’s no tins or boxes of sugar laden crap in my pantry. Can you imagine believing that margarine is better for you than butter? Lol.

    I’m 56, but I’m told regularly that I look like I’m in my mid 40’s, and my GP recently referred to me as a “healthy young man”. I attribute a large part of that to steering clear of prepackaged food, sugary soft drinks and other such poisons. A reasonable amount of exercise and giving up the durries also helps. I should probably cut back on the grog too, but what the hell, I like it a lot.

  4. I’ve been eating low to very low carb high fat for years and my health is better than ever. Look back to your great great ancestors to work out what’s good to eat.

    • The Traveling Wilbur

      skippy’s got competition! or a second account.

      But I’m guessing the deranged marsupial couldn’t manage a gravatar, so… Option 1.

      Welcome aboard.

  5. I’m wondering if the DAA’s surprising move to cease “corporate relationships” is anything to do with details that have come to light in the senate inquiry into bullying and harassment in the medical profession, specifically evidence given by Dr Gary Fettke.
    A longer story about DAA influence and their ties with the food manufacturers than I can detail here, but you can visit the isupportgary website or listen to a good interview he did with Pete Evans on this topic on Pete’s Recipes For Life podcast.

  6. I’m with you on the red meat → higher GHG emissions. Also, it’s not just CR cancer, it’s all-cause mortality (which is what actually matters when making sweeping claims about health impacts)


    But the headline on that PR piece is eye-rolling clickbait. I can feel the scientists’ embarrassment from here.

    Here’s the actual paper, the focus is really on low protein: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1550413116304454

    That was written in 2016. It’s 2018 now and FGF21’s not a mystery anymore. It’s a neurotropic hormone produced by the liver in response to a metabolic shift that requires more water. It signals the brain of the organism and triggers a behavioural change that results in a higher water consumption.


    If the system malfunctions then metabolism becomes improperly regulated which is unhealthy, but that’s very different from claiming that boosting FGF21 levels in normal individuals is healthy and that diet should aim to do that.

    For instance, all of these conditions increase FGF21, so are they all healthy?

    – alcohol consumption
    – a keto diet (HIGH fat, LOW carbs, normal protein). The exact opposite to “high carbs better than high fats because of FGF21”.
    – intense athletic activity
    – being starved of protein (which is what the co-author mentions in the PR).

    All of these cause a metabolic shift (especially due to ketone body production) and a requirement for higher water consumption. In a healthy individual, the liver sends out FGF21 to ask the brain to get more water please.

    it would be wrong to claim that a high carb, low protein diet is healthy because it promotes higher levels of FDF21. Under these conditions, the body is malnourished and it will sacrifice muscle tissue in order to salvage essential amino acids for critical systems. Note: the authors of the research did not make this claim. Be wary of PR clickbait.