Navigating a healthy path through the supermarket aisles using food labels as your map is no easy journey. Considering the nutritional panel, the ingredients list, the promises made by marketers on the front of the label and slogans like “all natural” and “low fat”, there’s no one clear answer – no simple X marking the clean-eating spot.
Fortunately there are several food rating systems already at work evaluating the nutritional benefits of thousands of grocery products so you don’t have to. There are also some great shopping guides and smartphone apps to help you reach the healthy shopping trolley treasure.
Really, we just want all the information in a nice neat package, conveniently on an app in the palm of our hand. Enter, Foodswitch.
The app was developed by the The George Institute and Bupa and is beautifully simple.
Once installed, the app uses your smartphone’s camera to scan a product’s barcode and rate the product against filters you set. Then, the app will suggest better food item options.
You can choose from the following:
- FoodSwitch Classic for anyone looking to make overall healthier food choices
- SaltSwitch for people with, or being treated for, high blood pressure. It’s also useful for people with heart disease and kidney disease
- GlutenSwitch helps people living with coeliac disease or a gluten intolerance to identify gluten-free products
- FatSwitch has been designed for people with, or being treated for, high cholesterol by helping to find healthier foods with lower levels of saturated fat
- EnergySwitch can help people choose foods with lower energy (kilojoules) to help them manage their energy needs
- SugarSwitch helps people choose healthier foods with less total sugar.
Healthy shopping guide by Diabetes Queensland
If you’re overhauling your diet, don’t just reset how you eat food but reset what you know about it too. Diabetes Queensland has a deep chest of resources including a detailed “Let’s Go Healthy Shopping” guide.
By the end of the online sessions you will be well-versed in personal nutrition and hey, you will probably be able to speak fluent food label.
The Heart Foundation Tick
An oldie but a goodie. The Heart Foundation says its tick “works with food manufacturers to help make food healthier”.
According to the foundation, the tick helps you compare foods and identify the varieties that:
- Are lower in saturated fat, trans fat, salt, and kilojoules
- Contain ingredients and nutrients that are better for you, like fibre, calcium, wholegrains and vegetables.
Remember, the tick is not a diet but a standard that can be used when making comparisons between food items and something that has a tick might still be a “sometimes” food.
Health Star Rating
The Federal Government’s Health Star Rating (HSR) system has been at work on supermarket shelves since June 2014. You might have spotted the star icon on some of your favourite products.
“The HSR system scores the nutritional profile of packaged food and assigns it a rating from a ½ star to 5 stars,” according to the Federal Government.
“Stars are calculated by assessing the amount of energy, saturated fat, sugars, sodium, fruit, vegetable, nut and legume content, as well as dietary fibre and protein.”
Put simply, the stars are calculated based on the nutrient content of the food item, not the entire make-up of it. For some in the public health sector, that approach makes the HSR system imperfect.
Last year, Professor Mark Lawrence and researcher Christina Pollard published a piece for The Conversation criticising the HSR system’s approach.
“Food consists of a complex matrix of nutrients and non-nutrient components, which interact in multiple ways to influence health. Because people eat foods rather than nutrients in isolation, it makes more sense to give nutrition advice based on whole foods,” they wrote.
“But the health star rating system looks at nutrients in isolation. And simply awarding stars irrespective of whether a food is from the ‘discretionary’ category [of the Australian Dietary Guidelines] is resulting in instances where foods, such as confectionery, are getting higher ratings than five-food-group foods, such as yoghurt.”
The ABC’s former Factcheck unit found some peculiarities in the way fat and sugar were evaluated between products and that ultimately its claim that “the more stars, the healthier the choice” was not always true.
So it’s not all plain sailing. The best plan? Minimise the amount of processed foods you buy and if it is in a packet, make sure the ingredient list is short and simple.
House Call Doctor has published information on the changing food pyramid and what you need to know about the different types of sugar in your food. We also take a look at modern-day dieting and suggest ways of getting the balance right .