On a hot summer’s day, of which there have been many recently, one of the best reliefs is chugging a cold glass of juice. While juice is high in sugar, it’s always been seen as a better alternative to soft drinks thanks to its natural fibre and vitamins. But the perception of juice may be about to change with new health star ratings.
What is a health star rating?
The health star rating system was implemented by the Australian Federal government to help Australians to make healthier choices when buying food. According to the ABC, the system is based on the nutritional composition of an item. Nutrients like protein and fibre add points while saturated fats and sugars decreased the value. An overall score is then given out of 5 stars.
One of the concerns outlined with the health star system is that it doesn’t differentiate between natural and added sugars. This often leads to junk foods being rated similarly to healthier items with natural sugars.
The system is also designed to compare foods in the same categories, not against completely different items. But a lot of the messaging around this has often been unclear.
Why is the system changing for juice?
The health star rating system has been under review by the federal government for some time.
A decision made last week by the Australian and New Zealand Ministerial Forum on Food Regulation rejected a proposal to award fresh juice with a 5-star HSR. This will effectively cut the rating of juice down to be on par with soft drinks like diet Coke.
This decision means that fruit juices will no longer be able to hold a 5-star rating. Alexandra Jones, a research fellow in food policy at the George Institute for Global Health told the Sydney Morning Herald that “what will happen now is the best juices will score four, and they’ll be scaled down from there.”
The decision has been received poorly. Citrus Australia CEO, Nathan Hancock, said in a statement last November:
“We are gutted for our growers that produce world class juice for the Australian population, only to be told diet coke is the better option. Governments have missed a chance to encourage consumption of fruit and vegetables in the form of juice, choosing to cave to the anti-sugar brigade against all logic.”
A report from the ABC outlines that officials may be more concerned with eradicating sugars entirely rather than amending the HSR according to nutritional value, which juice still provides a whole lot of.
Many juice companies are now choosing to remove the HSR label from their packaging, having lost faith in the system.
Jeff Knispel, a managing director of Nippy’s juice processing companies, told the ABC the HSR system is flawed:
“If you take out all of the nutrients in how you score well in this rating system and focus on sugar, the question is then raised: ‘Well, why are we calling it a health star rating?’ If you are so insistent on the sugar focus, why don’t you call it a sugar star rating, because to call it a health star rating is bordering on deceptive.”
The change in the HSR for juice is also of major concern for food waste, which is likely to soar if people are turned away from juice based on this new rating.
How can you tell if a drink is healthy?
So if the health star rating system can be seen as unreliable, what should you look out for when you’re after a healthy drink?
Health experts agree that water is the best choice and sugary drinks should be limited where possible. But if you are after something sweet to drink, there are a few things to consider.
When choosing juice, Dietitians Australia recommends that you avoid the super-sizes of juice and limit yourself to 125mL. You can also try diluting juice with water or ice to get more out of your serving.
They also recommend that sugary soft drinks and cordials should be treated as an extra meal, thanks to their low nutritional value. While these drinks seem lower in sugar on the label they can still be quite acidic which can lead to tooth decay.
The Australian Heart Foundation recommends plain soda water, unflavored milk or herbal tea as alternatives to water. It also suggests choosing fruit juices that are made up of 98% fruit or adding fresh pieces of chopped fruit to water for a refreshing drink.
According to Healthy Food, you should avoid fruit juices that say ‘fruit drink’ or that are made from ‘fruit concentrate’ and stick to ones that are made from freshly squeezed juice. Always read the label to understand exactly what is in your drink.
While the new HSR may impact our perception of juice, there are plenty of arguments for why juice can still be a healthy part of our diet. Drinking juice is a great way of meeting the 5 vege/2 fruit guidelines that are suggested for our daily intake. Of course, a better alternative is to always eat a piece of fruit whole, but juice is still a great way to increase your intake of beneficial chemicals.
A local Aussie juice company has even found a way to bottle all the nutritional parts of an apple with minimal waste, so there are still plenty of options for drinking juice that are healthy.
This article has been updated with additional information.