Choice calls for Health Star Ratings overhaul

Over recent 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, consumer advocacy group Choice has called for the algorithm used to determine Health Star Ratings to be overhauled, in a bid to penalise highly processed and sugary cereals. From The ABC:

When it applied the alternative algorithm to more than a dozen products, it found the Health Star Ratings of cereals like Nutri-Grain, Uncle Toby’s Plus Protein and Milo dropped from four out of five stars to just one-and-a-half stars.

Meanwhile, Sanitarium Soy Milk Vanilla Bliss and Golden Days Apricot Delight lost one star each.

CHOICE policy and campaigns adviser Linda Przhedetsky said its modelling showed a lot of products were not being accurately represented by the Health Star Rating system.

“Some of the findings from our work really surprised us, because we found some products could actually lose as much as two-and-a-half health stars — that’s extremely significant.”

The Health Star Rating System is designed to give you an “at-a-glance” overall health rating of packaged and processed foods…

“The system doesn’t distinguish between the extra sugar that’s added to foods like breakfast cereals, and the naturally occurring sugars in dairy or fruits,” she said…

Good to see. 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
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