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The Health Star Rating (HSR)

Health Star Rating logo

When doing your grocery shopping, you may have noticed a star symbol on the front of some food packages. This is the Health Star Rating (HSR) which is intended to make it easier for you to choose healthier products.

The HSR was introduced by the Commonwealth Department of Health in 2014 and is slowly becoming more common. It is the result of a partnership between government, non-government agencies and food industry and uses a selection of nutrients to rate packaged and processed foods. The nutrients selected are based on the Australian Dietary Guidelines and include “risk nutrients” including saturated fat, sugars, sodium and total kilojoules as well as “positive nutrients” – fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes, dietary fibre and protein. An algorithm that calculates the content of these nutrients is used to determine a final HSR score for a product.

The HSR rating ranges from 0.5 stars (less healthy) to 5 stars (most healthy) and is placed on a product on a voluntary basis. It can be useful when shopping for packaged foods to identify the healthier choice within a category of foods - for example, it can help you choose between different yoghurts.

A word of caution though – the HSR shouldn’t be used to compare very different foods such as a cooking oil and a loaf of bread. This is because the HSR logarithm varies by food categories based on the specific nutritional make up of foods and the role they play in contributing to a healthy diet so comparing between different food types can be misleading. For example, a cooking oil has 92% fat while bread has about 3% fat. Also the HSR is based on 100g or 100ml so doesn’t provide any indication of portion size. A normal serving of margarine is 2 teaspoons (10g) yet a soft drink is 370ml. Use the HSR to compare one margarine to another (or to butter) but not to a can of soft drink.

Another thing to remember is that the HSR for some foods is determined on the basis of how they are intended to be served. A chocolate drink mix will provide a HSR based on the product mixed with milk and a recipe mix will base the HSR on the way it’s intended to be served such as a casserole with meat and vegetables. If you serve the product differently, the HSR rating would no longer apply. Check the label on foods that need to be mixed with other ingredients to see how the HSR was determined.

Use the HSR as one tool in the decision making process for making healthier choices within various food categories. And remember, the HSR is not applied to fresh whole foods such as fruits and vegetables which should make up the bulk of your shopping trolley.