Science of One, Two or Three Stars

With everyone awaiting the January 31 release of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010 by the Department of Health and Human Services and the United States Department of Agriculture, it is a good time to pause and focus on the Guiding Stars nutrition guidance system. It was, in fact, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the 2005 version that provided in part the basis for the Guiding Stars science. These guidelines had just been published when the science behind Guiding Stars was being formulated by a team of scientific experts, leaders in their fields.

Guiding Stars is based on recommendations and guidance of the leading national and international scientific authoritative bodies in nutrition and health so it was important to look at the 2005 Guidelines which included the concept of looking to eat foods with higher nutrient density (the amount of nutrients in the calories from food and beverages).

Guiding Stars incorporated nutrient density as a factor with foods and beverages that receive stars (1, 2, or 3 stars for good, better, or best nutritional value) having a higher nutrient density as well as attributes that promote health and support disease prevention. Additionally, foods and beverages with stars have more vitamins, minerals, fiber, and/or whole grains and less saturated and trans fats, cholesterol, added sugars and added sodium. This high standard means about 25%, of the foods and beverages in the supermarket environment meet the necessary criteria to earn stars.

What we expect to see when the guidelines are released at 10 a.m. (EST) on January 31 (with live streaming) are guidelines that begin to address the obesity epidemic taking place across the country in both children and adults. The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee Report notes that Americans are eating too many calories and too much solid fats, added sugars, refined grains and sodium and eating too little dietary fiber, Vitamin D, calcium, potassium, and unsaturated fatty acids (specifically omega-3 fatty acids). The latter are found in foods such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, low-fat and fat-free milk and dairy foods, and seafood, many of which receive stars.

The focus for what we need to eat less of is on SoFAS, or solid (So) fats (F) and added (A) sugars (S).

Solid fats in our diets are coming from foods such as:

  • Grain-based desserts including cakes, cookies, pies, donuts, granola bars
  • Regular high fat cheeses
  • High fat meats including sausage, frankfurters, bacon, ribs
  • Pizza
  • Fried white potatoes including French fries and hash browns
  • Dairy based desserts such as ice cream

Added sugars in our diets are coming from foods and beverages such as:

  • Soda
  • Grain-based desserts including cakes, cookies, pies, donuts, granola bars
  • Fruit drinks
  • Dairy based desserts such as ice cream
  • Candy

It’s funny that the acronym for nutrition is ‘sofas’ because it is really a place where a healthy, active person shouldn’t be spending too much time!!

The good news is that Guiding Stars has been focused on SoFAS all along. Guiding Stars rates foods and beverages for both saturated and trans fats which are solid fats as well as for added sugars. Guiding Stars also rates foods and beverages for nutrients from vitamins and minerals, dietary fiber, whole grains and added sodium.

The Guiding Stars Scientific Advisory Panel has reviewed the Advisory Report and will take into account the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010 once they are released. Based on the new 2010 Guidelines, modifications may need to be made to Guiding Stars to ensure that the most current science is being used.

We pledge that the application of the science behind Guiding Stars will continue to result in a simple 1, 2 or 3 star icon that is easy and quick for consumers to use and understand when making more nutritious choices.

About our Nutrition Expert

Lori Kaley MS, RD, LD, MSB is a member of the Guiding Stars Scientific Advisory Panel. Lori has 30 years of combined experience working in healthcare and public health creating policies and environments to help families and children have access to healthy foods and beverages. She is currently Policy Associate at the University of Southern Maine’s Muskie School of Public Service.

Lori’s greatest achievement and joy has been in raising her three daughters to be healthy and productive young adults, each with their own particular love of food, cooking and being physically active. Lori’s passion for nutritional community outreach has been a cornerstone of the Guiding Stars Scientific Advisory Panel. Lori regularly contributes to the Guiding Stars blog.