Who should mind our food?

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It’s like asking, who should be in charge of what we put in your mouths? The answer is naturally, YOU!

When you browse through the supermarket aisles, myriads of choices are available, better packaging, more popular endorsers, pricier or cheaper and other pros and cons. To help us have an informed choice, the Australian Government initiated the Health Star Rating (HSR) to provide us with better options, supposedly healthier food. It is a front-pack labeling system that rates the nutritional profile of packaged food and is ranked between half a star to five stars (healthstarrating.gov.au), with more stars indicating a healthier option.

In recent days, however, a controversy cropped up with the HSR given to energy drink Milo. Nestle has removed its 4.5-star mark from Milo (in tin can) after the company was found to have supposedly misrepresented itself to be a healthy drink. Reportedly, the basis for the high mark was its recommended serving size which is three teaspoons of the chocolate powder on skim milk. Critics, however, noted that this is not how Milo is usually consumed. In the Philippines, those who grew up on this chocolate drink would attest that we consumed it by the tablespoons even without water or milk to complement it.

There goes the criticism why the HSR is flawed, according to some sectors. Some say that the rating system does not look at the packaged food as a whole but ranks according to how it’s prepared. Also, it doesn’t distinguish between naturally-occuring and added sugars. Natural sugars such as fructose should be ok, but added sugars which are artificial are not. So it’s strange that a muesli bar, which has loads of sugar could get a high-star rating on account of the food groups included, such as fruits, nuts and seeds. The added sugar seem to be negligible.

Not to undermine the work done by the HSR, which is subject to a review, what should we do if our trusted rate sheet could not give us the complete nutritional picture which should give us the healthier version. After all, our health is not only be a product of exercise or a workout regimen, but also by the food we intake.

First of all, we should read the nutritional information of the food we buy. Like what the HSR does, we should look at the label for facts like fat, sugar, carbohydrates, sodium and fibre. But beyond that, we should also look at the ingredient list if it has natural or artificial flavours made to make food look and taste good.

Second, was the food treated with a lot of chemicals or processing to get to the end product? The more processed food is, the more it becomes deviated from its natural form, the worse it is for the body. For example, food with trans fat is frowned upon because of the processing the food has been treated with.

Third, we should also understand the source of the food, for example dairy, meats and other farm products. Is the farm or its plant reliable, pass certain State or international standards for sanitation and safety? We should understand that food has both short- and long-term effect on our health.

The Government should be lauded for efforts to make the food industry comply with standards to help in the ensuring the health of the citizenry. As consumers, we should also demand that we be given the best options to avoid illnesses and other health issues. But more than that, we should be take charge of our own health by knowing what we put into our bodies

– The Philippine Times, March 2018 Editorial

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