The modern industrial food system has added yet another link to our enormously long food chain.
Every day for the past few weeks I have heard the same ad on the local country radio station on my way into the Modern Stone Age Kitchen. The supermarket chain, Giant, recently launched an advertising campaign for its labeling system that is “Shining a Light on Nutrition.”
According to the Giant Foods website it is so amazing, in fact, that if you “ever feel lost while looking for nutritious options” there is no reason to worry. “Guiding Stars makes it easy to find your way” all you have to do is, “just follow the stars.”
Hannaford Supermarkets, which serve Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York and Vermont first developed the Guiding Stars program in 2006. Currently, you can find Guiding Stars at grocery stores such as Food Lion, Hannaford, Martins, Shop and Stop and Giant; food service at University of New Hampshire and University of North Dakota, and schools such as Tufts University.
The Guiding Stars program promises to help you “shop like a nutrition expert” by simply rating the food on their shelves by using, as they state, “established nutrition science.” “Finding nutritious options can get complicated” the website continues, “but Guiding Stars makes it simple. The nutrition guidance program reads nutrition labels and measures every product using. If it meets the transparent nutrition criteria, it earns a 1, 2, or 3 star rating. It’s that easy!”
- ONE STAR = GOOD Nutrition
- TWO STARS = BETTER Nutrition
- THREE STARS = BEST Nutrition
My take on these “guiding stars”
For one, the Guiding Stars program seems to be very transparent about how they structure their rating system. You can find more information about their rating system, obtain biographies for members of their scientific panel, and even find instructions for accessing their “white paper” (a deeper dive into how they structure their algorithms).
Guiding Stars uses five different algorithms to rate the food on their shelves including:
(1) General Foods,
(2) Meats, Poultry, Seafood, Dairy & Nuts,
(3) Fats & Oils,
(4) Infant & Toddler Foods, and
I spent the day yesterday diving deep into the resources they offer and here are a few red flags I found with their algorithm:
- There is no value placed on protein
- It is anti saturated fat
- It is anti salt
- It is way too pro fiber
- There is no place for truly important things such as food processing strategies that totally transform food into safer and more nourishing forms such as sourdough, soaking, sprouting, fermenting, and nixtamalizing.
- There is no consideration for plant toxins such as oxalates, lectins, and phytates.
- And, given this model’s disregard for the value of protein along with its negative take of saturated fat it plays right into the hands of the current plant based agenda. More nutrient dense, bioavailable, and safer animal based foods are doomed in their model.
Searching for Positives
To be fair, there are actually several assumptions they make in their algorithms I agree with.
- Under this model foods lose points for added sugar, sugar alcohols and artificial colors.
- The current Guiding Stars algorithms also removed the original debit point values associated with dietary cholesterol (in line with the new Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015 rulings when they eliminated their own quantitative limit).
But, despite the fact that the DGA currently doesn’t limit dietary cholesterol, the guiding stars algorithm unfortunately still maintains their own upper limit “so that any foods with excessive amounts of dietary cholesterol (>300mg/100 kcal) are disqualified from earning a star rating, regardless of the presence of dietary components to encourage” “Guiding Stars makes it easy to find your way.”
So, what’s the problem then?
Is it really a big deal that it takes off points for salt, doesn’t like saturated fats, lacks any appreciation for the importance of protein, and over emphasizes the role fiber plays in a healthy diet? If you are eating a Standard American Diet and totally confused about what to eat I would even go so far as to suggest this rating system might even be an okay place to begin. But, if you truly want to connect with your food and create truly nourishing food for yourself and your family this is not the way to go.
Guiding Stars fail in 3 ways
Shrouded in the promise of conveniently helping their customers fill their shopping carts with “healthier” options, Guiding Stars, and rating systems like it, fail us in three major ways:
- It adds one more link to our food chain,
- There is zero educational value ,
- It is a controlling mechanism.
The potential short term benefits of making an individual shopping experience “healthier” through convenient labeling are overshadowed by longer term damages.
Where does that leave us as consumers?
Exactly where we were before rating systems were invented to shape the manner in which we shop. Removing links from our food chains, connecting more closely to our food, and cooking from scratch are the best ways to create an army of informed consumers who are immune to advertising and marketing schemes and have the ability to fill their carts with truly nourishing food for their families.
Are you with me?? Drop a note below and let us know!