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Study shows national Health Star Rating system does not distinguish grains

A GLNC study has looked at differentiation between refined and wholegrain foods under the Australian Health Star Rating system for grain foods.
Photo: GLNC

Research highlights complexity of Health Star Rating system when choosing healthy foods.

A Grains & Legumes Nutrition Council study published in the international journal Nutrients has found that the Australian Health Star Rating system (HSR) does not differentiate between wholegrain and refined grain foods.

This means there is little, if any, difference in the HSR score for foods such as brown and white rice, making it difficult for consumers to choose the best foods for health benefits.

GLNC research compared the HSR scores (between 0.5 and five stars) of 441 grain-based foods.

The study showed wholegrain foods scored between four to five stars more than refined grain foods.

But it also identified significant overlap in foods scoring 3.5 to five stars. And this does little to promote wholegrain foods as a healthier choice on behalf of industry.

The HSR, currently undergoing a five-year review, uses an algorithm to assign scores.

But it does not consider the whole grain within foods. It only considers the dietary fibre content.

While this may boost some wholegrain foods' scores, the GLNC says it is not enough.

The study showed wholegrain foods scored between four to five stars more than refined grain foods - Grains & Legumes Nutrition Council nutrition manager Felicity Curtain

There are big differences in the amount of dietary fibre present in grain foods  between 3 and 18 per cent  so it does not make sense to the GLNC to rely solely on fibre as a surrogate measure for wholegrain.

Additionally, wholegrains contain much more than just fibre.

When all three natural layers of a grain are present, wholegrains are rich in protein, B-group vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.

Disease protection

Australian Dietary Guidelines have promoted wholegrains over refined grains since 1979.

This is because wholegrains provide a level of protection against cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, colorectal cancer and weight gain.

Globally, among dietary risk factors, low intake of wholegrain foods has been noted as the second leading risk for mortality (behind sodium), making these an important food in Australian diets.

Despite the benefits, most Australians still choose refined grain foods over wholegrain, with most of our grain choices coming from foods such as white bread, rice and pasta.

Half the population is reported to not know what wholegrain is.

Now, as part of the HSR five-year review, wholegrain is under consideration as an addition to the calculation.

This would see wholegrain foods scored higher than refined alternatives, allowing Australians to better identify wholegrain foods, while also providing an opportunity for the HSR to lead the way internationally.

The outcome of the HSR review is expected to be released in time for Whole Grain Week in Australia, scheduled for June 17-23.

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