Guiding Stars February 2018 Algorithm Update

Graphic featuring the Guiding Stars algorithm changes
Watch the webinar explaining the update:

This webinar was recorded on Wednesday, January 24, 2018 at 12:00 PM ET.

Rationale for an update to the Guiding Stars algorithm:

Whenever national or international nutrition policy is updated, the Guiding Stars Scientific Advisory Panel carefully reviews those recommendations, and the most current scientific evidence, to ascertain whether any revisions should be made to the Guiding Stars algorithm. This procedure was followed when the FDA revised the Daily Values (DV) for vitamins, minerals, sodium and fiber, and released the impending changes to the Nutrition Facts label.

The FDA announced the revision of recommended Daily Values (DV) along with the update of the Nutrition Facts label with a compliance date of January 2020.  In anticipation of this change, and to accommodate manufacturers that have already begun taking steps to update their labels, the Guiding Stars Scientific Advisory Panel began a rigorous review of the most recent scientific evidence to determine if a revision to the algorithm was appropriate.  After careful consideration, the Panel determined that the algorithm should indeed be revised to align with the Nutrition Facts label and DV changes. Moreover, the Panel reviewed the algorithm in totality to determine if other revisions were necessary to stay current with scientific consensus and policies. The Panel decided to give credit more broadly for foods with beneficial omega-3 fatty acids (including DHA and EPA), and to penalize foods that contain artificial food colors.

Summary of current science on omega 3 fatty acids and DHA/EPA:

Foods containing omega-3 fatty acids including long-chain docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and/or eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) are now being credited as these nutrients have documented anti-inflammatory and disease-fighting properties. Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease deaths and so-called “sudden deaths.”  Studies also suggest that omega-3 fatty acids may be helpful in treating a variety of other conditions including high blood pressure, diabetes, arthritis, ADHD, asthma, macular degeneration, and cancer.

Summary of current science on artificial colors and dyes:

A decision was made to debit foods by 1 star rating for the presence of artificial colors as growing scientific evidence is showing that they may cause or exacerbate negative behavioral outcomes such as hyperactivity and inattentiveness in sensitive children. The debit for artificial colors is aligned with emerging nutrition evidence and policy in Europe, and also reflects growing pressure on manufacturers to replace artificial colors with abundantly available and safer natural colors (i.e. root dyes).  The Guiding Stars SAP wants to positively leverage our nutrition guidance program to further encourage companies to remove artificial colors from their food products.

Expected impact of algorithm changes on food products’ Guiding Stars ratings:

Many whole foods and hundreds of packaged foods and recipes will change their star values due to these changes in the algorithm. The breakdown of star rating changes for the combined algorithm revisions is as follows:

  • 1,404 items gain a star which includes:
    • 969 packaged, prepared and single ingredient foods
    • 435 recipes
  • 1,679 items lose a star which includes:
    • 1,191 packaged, prepared and single ingredient foods
    • 488 recipes

In total 364 foods and recipes that did not previously earn a star will now earn one or more stars with the algorithm revision and 730 foods that previously earned one or more stars will no longer earn any stars. Although these changes have a large impact on product ratings they are essential to the integrity and relevance of the program.

Timeline for Guiding Stars algorithm changes:

Changes to the Guiding Stars algorithm were implemented on February 1, 2018 and are effective immediately. Supermarket partners will receive updated ratings information and will process new shelf tags as soon as possible. Recipes appearing on will also reflect star changes immediately.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why do you separate credits for omega-3 fatty acids and EPA and DHA?

Foods with omega-3 fatty acids, including EPA and DHA are given credit as these nutrients have been shown to confer many health benefits. Omega-3 fats include the polyunsaturated fats alpha-linoleic acid (ALA) as well as EPA and DHA. Current dietary recommendations for omega-3 fatty acids in the U.S. are based on the more available ALA. However, since there are also unique health benefits documented for EPA and DHA, an additional bonus point is provided for the presence of these long-chain fatty acids in foods.

If a manufacturer were to provide the amount of added sugars in their product, could the GS algorithm include that information in its assessment?

In anticipation of the FDA’s updated Nutrition Facts label requirement, originally proposed for implementation in 2018, Guiding Stars updated their data systems to allow products that declare added sugars separately from total sugars to be entered and evaluated based on this additional information.  While the deadline for compliance for the Nutrition Facts label changes was extended to January 2020 we will continue to update products using the new label and debit these items only on declared ‘added sugars’.  For those products that have not yet updated their labels to declare added sugars separately, we will continue to use our current system for rating (search for ingredient keywords indicating added sugars are present and if present calculate a debit based on total sugars) until we receive updated product information.

Artificial colors are not included in any national nutrition policies in the United States so why does Guiding Stars debit for artificial colors?

The Guiding Stars Scientific Advisory Panel has a mandate to remain up to date on research and to recommend algorithm changes when there is overwhelming evidence that informs scientific consensus on a food attribute.  Artificial colors, while not included in the most recent Dietary Guidelines for Americans have been widely researched and shown to cause or exacerbate negative behaviors such as hyperactivity and inattentiveness in some children.  Due to these findings, in Europe foods containing artificial colors must display a warning and there is growing pressure for manufacturers both in the US and abroad to replace artificial colors with widely available natural food dyes, especially in foods targeted toward children. In keeping with this scientific consensus the scientific advisory panel decided to include a debit of one star for items containing artificial colors.

Can you share some of the sources your SAP looked at when making the decision to include artificial colors/dyes in the algorithm?

These are just a few of the scientific papers and sources used when determining whether artificial colors should be included in the algorithm:

Since you are debiting for artificial colors, why don’t you debit for artificial sweeteners?

All of the artificial sweeteners found in our food supply have undergone an extensive testing and review process and have been deemed safe by the FDA.  There is insufficient scientific evidence to show that non-caloric sweeteners found in food products have negative effects on health. Hence they currently are not debited by the Guiding Stars system.

Will there also be changes to the Canadian algorithm?

These current changes are being made to the U.S. algorithm only.  The FDA’s recommended updates to Daily Values for vitamins, minerals, sodium, and fiber are valid only for the U.S. The Canadian algorithm is being reviewed by the SAP for potential updates due to recent and proposed food label changes and changes to Canada’s Food Guide.

Do the changes to the algorithm impact the Guiding Stars recipes as well?

All foods are rated with the updated algorithm including single ingredient items, packaged and prepared foods, and recipes. There are a number of recipes on the Guiding Stars site that will be impacted by the changes and their new ratings reflect these changes.

Other Questions?

For other questions or more information regarding this change to the Guiding Stars algorithm, please contact the GSLC team at