NA­TIONAL HEART FOUN­DA­TION: TICK or TRICK?

Con­fu­sion with the new Health Star Rat­ing sys­tem

Great Health Guide - - CONTENTS - dr he­lena Popovic

Over the last few months we’ve heard a lot about the Health Star Rat­ing Sys­tem that is re­plac­ing the Heart Foun­da­tion Tick on pack­aged foods. Why is the Heart Foun­da­tion Tick be­ing re­tired and what are the ad­van­tages of the new sys­tem?

I be­lieve it will NOT lead to im­prove­ments in the health of Aus­tralians. In fact, I think it sends the wrong mes­sage to con­sumers: that pro­cessed foods are a healthy op­tion as part of a reg­u­lar diet.

Most pro­cessed and pack­aged foods (but of course not all pack­aged foods) need to be viewed for what they re­ally are: an emer­gency op­tion for when I need to fuel my body in a hurry and I don’t have time to cook a meal. Not some­thing I eat ev­ery day - other than pack­aged items such as raw, nat­u­ral nuts, plain un­fla­vored

Re­plac­ing the Heart Foun­da­tion Tick with the Health Star Rat­ing is like putting a band aid on a bro­ken bone.

and unsweet­ened dairy prod­ucts, rolled oats or the oc­ca­sional tin of ar­ti­chokes.

If you read the fine print on both the Heart Foun­da­tion and Health Star Rat­ing web­sites, they ac­tu­ally say just that. But that’s not the mes­sage that comes across the loud­est.

Most things start with good in­ten­tions and 26 years ago (in 1989) so did the Heart Foun­da­tion Tick.

Three pos­i­tive out­comes achieved by the Tick are:

1. Re­duc­tion - if not elim­i­na­tion - of trans fats from the Aus­tralian diet

2. Re­duc­tion in salt con­sump­tion

3. Manda­tory nu­tri­tional la­belling on pack­aged foods GHG Dis­claimer – please read So the Heart Foun­da­tion gets a tick for that! How­ever, there were ma­jor flaws with the sys­tem:

1. The tick did not take into ac­count the added sugar con­tent of pro­cessed foods, which we now know is one of the big­gest threats to our health. Ex­cess sugar con­trib­utes to heart dis­ease, stroke, di­a­betes, can­cer, chronic in­flam­ma­tory con­di­tions and much more. The Star Sys­tem aims to re­dress this omis­sion by tak­ing into ac­count the sugar con­tent of foods.

2. The fact that a food had a tick shows it was al­ready a com­pro­mise in terms of a healthy choice be­cause it meant it was pro­cessed. The foods that we need to eat most - fresh veg­eta­bles, fresh fruit and fish - don’t have la­bels so they can’t carry a Tick or Star. There­fore, the best in­di­ca­tion of a healthy food is that it’s phys­i­cally im­pos­si­ble to put a la­bel, Tick or Star on it!

3. Ticks and Stars were only de­signed to help peo­ple make com­par­isons be­tween less healthy food stuffs and not as a li­cense to eat more of them. This is plainly stated on both web­sites how­ever it is not public knowl­edge.

4. The Heart Foun­da­tion Tick lost all cred­i­bil­ity in 2011 when it granted the Tick to McDon­alds Fil­let-o-fish burg­ers and chicken nuggets. The ra­tio­nal­iza­tion given by the Heart Foun­da­tion was that it wanted to en­cour­age fast food out­lets to use health­ier in­gre­di­ents. This is a non­sense. If some­thing is in­trin­si­cally un­healthy, re­plac­ing one in­gre­di­ent will not negate the dam­age caused by the re­main­ing in­gre­di­ents.

Giv­ing McDon­ald’s a Tick en­cour­aged peo­ple who did not eat it in the first place, to think it might have some health ben­e­fits af­ter all.

Ticks and Stars were only de­signed to help peo­ple make com­par­isons be­tween less healthy food stuffs and not as a li­cense to eat more of them.

Fresh veg­eta­bles, fresh fruit and fish - don’t have la­bels so they can’t carry a Tick or Star.

The Tick earned the Heart Foun­da­tion $300 000 per year from McDon­alds.

This is ut­terly ir­re­spon­si­ble and ac­tu­ally con­trib­utes to con­fu­sion and wors­en­ing health. The Heart Foun­da­tion later re­moved the tick but the dam­age was done.

5. The Heart Foun­da­tion web­site cau­tions: ‘Keep in mind that while a prod­uct may have the Tick, it may be some­thing you will want to eat only oc­ca­sion­ally.’ This ac­tu­ally ren­ders the Tick mean­ing­less be­cause most peo­ple did not re­alise the Tick was a com­par­a­tive mea­sure - they saw it as carte blanche per­mis­sion to eat as much of the food as they wanted.

6. This is by no means an ex­haus­tive list of Tick short­com­ings but you get the point.

So will the new Health Star Rat­ing Sys­tem change any­thing? No. For a start, it still has flaws #2 #3 and #5 as out­lined above. In ad­di­tion, it is a vol­un­tary sys­tem. That means if a food man­u­fac­turer does not re­ceive many stars it can choose not to re­veal its rat­ing. Would you pub­li­cise a low score if you were a food pro­ducer? And shop­pers won’t know if a food with­out a star rat­ing has not been rated or is choos­ing not to dis­play a poor rat­ing. This ren­ders the sys­tem mean­ing­less.

My crit­i­cal point is not to be lulled into a false sense of se­cu­rity if you see a food with 5 Stars. The cam­paign’s main mes­sage – ‘the more stars the bet­ter’ – is mis­lead­ing be­cause it doesn’t spell out clearly enough that Stars re­late only to pro­cessed and pack­aged foods that are com­pared to foods within the same cat­e­gory.

We’ve made our lives com­pli­cated enough so let’s keep eat­ing sim­ple. Choose fresh, whole, un­pro­cessed foods that have been in­ter­fered with as lit­tle as pos­si­ble. Eat with joy and aware­ness and savour ev­ery mouth­ful. When we tune in to our bod­ies and no­tice sub­tleties of taste and tex­ture, we will in­trin­si­cally know what nour­ishes us.

Dr He­lena Popovic is a med­i­cal doc­tor, a lead­ing au­thor­ity on how to im­prove brain func­tion, in­ter­na­tional speaker and best-sell­ing au­thor. She is unique in bring­ing the lat­est dis­cov­er­ies in brain sci­ence to weight man­age­ment and she shows that ed­u­ca­tion is more pow­er­ful than med­i­ca­tion. She’s the founder of a ground­break­ing weight loss pro­gram called Win­ning at Slim­ming – think­ing the light way and the au­thor of ‘Neu­roSlim­ming – let your brain change your body’. For more in­for­ma­tion re­fer to He­lena’s web­site.

‘The more stars the bet­ter’ – is mis­lead­ing, it re­lates only to pro­cessed and pack­aged foods.

LET’S KEEP EAT­ING SIM­PLE.

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