HomeHealthNutritionA star rating for Chips and Chocolates?

A star rating for Chips and Chocolates?

In today’s Finshots, we talk about the Indian Nutritional Value (INR) and the debate surrounding it.

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The story

Let’s be honest. We all like to grab a bite to eat now and then. That could be a pack of instant noodles, popcorn, or a bag of chips. It’s a fun way to deal with your cravings.

And Indians are getting addicted to this stuff. According to a survey conducted by Mondelez International and The Harris Poll, 8 out of 10 Indians respondents said they replace entire meals with snacks. And no snacks of any kind. Mostly packaged food. And according Euro monitor it seems that sales of ultra-processed food in India have tripled from 2 kg per capita in 2005 to 6 kg in 2019. And it is expected to reach 8 kg by 2024.

But we all know it’s not a healthy alternative.

Processed foods cause obesity, diabetes, hypertension and cardiovascular problems. It can make an entire population sick and unhealthy. So what do you do about it?

It seems that the FSSAI (Food Safety and Standards Authority of India) has a new formula: a star rating on the front of food and snack packs telling you exactly how healthy or unhealthy the product is.

Now, we’ve talked about star ratings in the past by describing the Australian health star rating system, a rather authoritative guide to ranking edible products. In their own words

The Health Star Rating system is based on comparing products within similar food categories and allows us to quickly compare the overall nutritional profile of foods within that category. For example, we can compare one breakfast cereal to another, one muesli bar to another, or one margarine spread to another… Health Star Ratings can help you choose between similar products that are usually displayed together (e.g. wholemeal bread and White bread).

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Source : http://www.healthstarrating.gov.au/

The star ratings range from half a star to 5 stars. And it takes into account various nutritional information to determine what deserves a higher rating and what doesn’t. In general, according to the Australian guide, a health score of 3.5 or less considered unhealthy and so you can make a reasonable assessment of the quality of the food you consume.

And since the reviews are labeled up front, it should serve as a helpful guide, no?

Well, not everyone thinks so. Not least the people of the Nutrition Advocacy for Public Interest (NAPi).

In March, she wrote to the Ministry of Health and public policy think tank Niti Aayog on the matter. And they emphasized one important thing.

Their claim is that it is easy to manipulate star ratings. For example, a chocolate bar with a lot of sugar can add some nuts and increase the rating. They can also replace sugar with other alternative sweeteners and make a product that scores better.

In reality, some doctors even suggest that a one-star rating could create a positive perception. The consumer might think, “Hey, at least there’s some good about it and it’s not all bad.”

But what if the galaxy has worked elsewhere? Wouldn’t that be useful to know?

Well, they tried it in Australia and let’s just say it is didn’t work at all from.

Mark Lawrence, a professor of public health nutrition at Australia’s Deakin University, told The Ken that 73% of ultra-processed foods on supermarket shelves showed ratings of 2.5 stars or higher. In fact, said Lawrence, who studied the implementation of the star rating, the ratings conveyed nothing of value — nutritionally — to consumers [what does a 1.5 star really tell you about the actual sugar content?].

In Australia, products like Diet Coke (loaded with artificial sweeteners) and no-sugar gummy candies got four and five stars respectively, while a pack of olives got one star and free-range eggs got four stars.

So you can see why some people are not happy with the new recommendation. But if a star-based system doesn’t work, what would you ask?

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Well symbols.

More specifically, color-coded symbols with explanatory text (e.g. vegetarian and non-vegetarian symbols). In fact, the country’s food regulator, FSSAI, published a draft paper in 2018 in an effort to review food labeling and reflect guidelines. And it had some pretty solid suggestions.

Take, for example, the recommendation for color-coding certain basic nutrient information: if a serving contains sugar, salt, or fat above a certain threshold (for example, 30% of the recommended daily intake), then a red block would indicate to the consumer that they are not necessarily making a healthy choice. After all, if you’re consuming a significant portion of your daily recommended sugar intake with a single bar, then you should be entitled to know in advance that you’re making that choice. Basically the food regulator even noticedthat they “may introduce a color coding system from time to time in addition to marking foods as ‘red’ within specified thresholds.” Perhaps referring to the fact that the blocks can be colored red, orange and green depending on the health risk they pose.

Also, guess what? When regulators in Chile introduced a similar system to the country, they found some very optimistic results. A year after the country’s warning system“per capita consumption of carbonated drinks [stuff such as Pepsi and Coke] reduced by 24.9% in the first evaluation”.

So yeah, maybe that’s what we really need when we’re trying to break our unhealthy snacking habits.

However, for now, FSSAI is still pushing the star-based system. Will this change? We do not know.

Until then…

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