Monday, November 7, 2011

Guiding you to Healthy Choices?

Loblaws has recently launched the Guiding Stars program to help consumers identify healthier options in their grocery stores.  I became aware of it while waiting to see the dentist and looking through the Canadian Health magazine. 

The Vancouver Sun posted an article by Jennifer Sygo, RD.  She talks about the program including its weaknesses and strengths:

"Guiding Stars also did itself a service by adjusting its algorithm according to the food category being rated, which means lean meats and fish aren’t unfairly penalized for containing modest amounts of saturated fat, and nuts aren’t faulted for being high in fat and low in fibre. This a particularly refreshing take when, so often in the past, foods such as almonds, olive oil and avocados have been faulted for their fat content, despite the fact a preponderance of research suggests they are important for good health."

Other programs used to make choices easier are often only applied to foods found in packages.  This excludes some of the healthiest choices such as fresh fruits and vegetables.  The programs (such as the Heart and Strokes' Health Check) can help consumers, but the brands have to pay to be a part of the program, so again certain foods are excluded and it just doesn't allow for an even comparison if that's all a consumer is looking for. 

"Finally, one of the best elements of the Guiding Stars program is that it is in no way influenced by any brand, industry or the price of a given food. It is an objective look at the nutrient density of a food, and is much simpler to understand than a label or ingredient list could ever be." 

These simplified systems are not a replacement for label reading.  Many people are still very interested in the actual ingredients and so reading the ingredient list is important.  The rating systems also only take into account the nutrients found on the nutrition facts panel, and there can be many other vitamins, minerals, etc. that make a product a healthier choice or not.

To find out more visit the website and you can even see the algorithm used to classify foods.  The site says: "Guiding Stars is not intended to tell you what to buy, but rather point you toward foods that have more vitamins, minerals, dietary fiber, whole grains –and less fats, cholesterol, sugar and sodium."
Here is a brief video from the website:

What do you think?  Do you read labels or use systems like this?

Steph Wheler, RD
something nutrishus counselling & coaching