Surprising Stars

Once in a while we like to do a little “expose”-style post where we reveal some foods that have Guiding Star ratings that surprise you—and then explain why these foods warranted that rating. Our hope is that you might realize that a food you’ve been avoiding for fear that it isn’t that healthful is actually something that merits a place in your eating plan. Of course, that could work in the opposite way, too—something you routinely purchase because you think it’s nutritious or good for you turns out not to be “all that.”

Quinoa Granola

Quinoa Granola

Three Guiding Stars iconThree Guiding Stars indicate the best nutritional value. Cinnamon is the trick to making this granola seems sweet with less added sugar.

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The Granola Goof

I actually happen to like granola. It’s crunchy and delicious and I’m not ever going to tell you that granola should not find its way into your cart ever again. However (you knew that was coming, right?), many granolas don’t earn any stars, and the majority earn just one star. What’s the deal, you ask? Well, checking the label will give you a big clue:

  • Sugars abound in the typical packaged granola. Most frequently, honey or another sweetener is the second most plentiful ingredient in granola. Some even have multiple sweeteners added.
  • And then there’s the fat. Some granolas contain a fair amount of oil—not something typically present in cereals. And coconut oil is featured in a few types of packaged granola, which means it is counted as a saturated fat (something that warrants a debit in the Guiding Star algorithm).

So, if you’re going to purchase packaged granola, seek out one of the 2-star granolas (there are currently no 3-star granolas that I can find). You can use the Guiding Stars “Food Finder” search tool before you head to the store to check on which brands earn the most stars, which will save you some time in the aisle. Or, purchase ingredients and make your own granola—it’s possible to do it with no fat, or just a small amount of oil), and a lot less sweetener than you’d think. Pump up your perception of sweetness by adding in some vanilla and a good dose of cinnamon or pumpkin pie spice. Here’s a Guiding Stars Quinoa Granola recipe to get you started (and it earns 3 stars)!

The Red Meat Miss

If you routinely skip the meat case thinking that there is nothing lean to be had there, you might be surprised to know that there are plenty of 2- and 3-star earning options among the pork and beef offerings. The Guiding Stars program has a separate algorithm to handle meat and poultry (it also includes dairy products, nuts, and seafood) because they intrinsically have higher levels of certain nutrients such as saturated fat, and they do not naturally contain fiber. It really wouldn’t be fair to put these products—many of which are considered healthful by current dietary guidelines—through the general foods algorithm. That said, the Guiding Stars algorithm does take a conservative approach to scoring meats in the algorithm, giving maximum debits for any product that contains more than 2.5g saturated fat/100g portion—this corresponds very closely to the USDA level for “extra-lean” specification (which is 2g saturated fat or less). So it’s fair to say that if you’re looking for lean meat, selecting items with a 2- or 3-star rating is an easy way to go.

So, now you know that lean cuts of red meat are plentiful, but you might not know which cuts to look for. In general, the star-earning cuts of beef and pork will have the following terms in their names:

  • Beef: round (eye of round, bottom round, top round etc), sirloin, sirloin tip, cuts/ground beef labeled “extra lean” or “lean”
  • Pork: tenderloin, loin (sirloin, top loin), chops, cuts/ground pork labeled “lean”

And of course, you can always feel free to trim away any visible fat on cuts of meat prior to cooking or eating them.