After my nutrition controversy group finished our end-of-semester presentation on “Nutrient Profiling” methods, I find that my interest in the subject continues. Nutrient profiling systems, are food rating systems designed to compare foods based on their nutritional values to provide quick insight to shoppers looking to make healthy choices. There are dozens of nutrient profiling systems out there, some with substantially better methods of rating foods than others, but all imperfect… at least for now.
The system I focused on was the “Guiding Stars” system, implemented by Hannaford Supermarkets in 2007. Guiding Stars is now used by 1,300 grocery stores, two universities, and one public school. The system gives foods 0, 1, 2, or 3 star ratings based on how their nutritional contents measure up. 3-star products are considered the healthiest products within their categories. Of course, what is healthiest is not always the same for every person. The star ratings are based on what would be best for the general population, most of whom could benefit from controlling or losing weight. For those in the population who are on the low-end of the weight spectrum or who are underweight, I do not think these star ratings will necessarily benefit in several cases. Most of the criteria used to evaluate the foods seem like good ones to me based on my studies of what constitutes a healthy diet. The one glaring problem that I have with the system is that it does not deduct points from non-caloric sweeteners. While these do not add calories to a food, the health consequences of heavy use of these artificial sweeteners are not entirely known and may be harmful. For diabetics, artificial sugars can be very useful but for others I do not see them as beneficial and may cause more problems than their worth.
With that being said, I do see the value in Guiding Stars as a general, user-friendly reference. Few of us have the time or energy to critically evaluate the labels of everything we eat, so a system that does the work for us has its appeal. Try comparing some of the foods you buy on the online Food Finder site. You may find that some foods you thought were healthy aren’t really as great as they seem and others that you thought weren’t so great are actually quite good for you!
Try it at home: Visit http://food.guidingstars.com/
Want to get the nutritional facts for the foods you eat at Tufts? Try Tufts Nutritional Analysis Program.