Of the 20 vegetables tested by lobby group AusVeg, just half received a full complement of five stars using the Health Star Rating System calculator, while the remaining 10 only achieved four and a half stars.
Under the system, which will be implemented on a voluntary basis, food and beverages are given a rating between half a star and five stars, based on how healthy they are. The star ratings were designed to be easier to understand than the current nutrition panels, health ministers said when it was devised.
However, vegetables such as celery, lettuce and pumpkin failed to meet the criteria for a full, five-star rating, despite their widely verified health benefits.
Sending the wrong message
“We are extremely disappointed that not all vegetables are eligible for a five-star rating under the new front-of-pack labelling system,” said Andrew White of AusVeg.
“Science has confirmed the myriad health benefits provided by a vegetable-rich diet, so to exclude some of them from receiving a five-star rating is sending the wrong message to Australian consumers about what they should really put on their plates.”
The Health Star Rating System is purportedly designed to make healthy eating choices easier for Australian consumers when purchasing groceries.
“We fail to see how the system would encourage consumers to purchase fresh vegetables when it deems that celery—which provides a mere 64kJ of energy per 100g serving—receives a four-and-a-half-star rating.
“Front-of-pack labelling policy should be well thought-out and backed by common sense.”
Missing health benefits
White said the current Percentage of Daily Intake system and the new star system both fail to consider the role of phytonutrients in vegetables, many of which are linked to the prevention of several health conditions and disorders, like cancer.
“Research has demonstrated that vegetables are rich in chemicals that can help to fight conditions like cardiovascular disease and cancer. These benefits should be closely considered when developing rating systems for individual vegetables.
“With obesity on the rise amongst Australians, it is important that we convey good health messages. Awarding vegetables an automatic five stars would allow consumers to more easily determine what foods are best for them.”