This post is sponsored by Stop & Shop. All thoughts and opinions are my own.
Grocery shopping is overwhelming. I rarely bring a list which isn’t always the smartest option but it allows me flexibility to buy what’s on sale and in season. I’m also always eager to try new foods, especially if they are nutritious and I think Tommy will eat them! It takes time to analyze a nutrition label and with a toddler in tow, I make more mistakes than I’d like to admit.
For example, I recently bought a whole milk yogurt shake for Tommy that had 17g of sugar per serving! That is a TON of sugar for a toddler and I ended up throwing them away.
One of my favorite grocery stores, Stop & Shop, is now making it easier for people to shop for foods that are better for you, faster with their new first of its kind nutrition navigation program, Guiding Stars®. With symbols that are visible at a glance, Guiding Stars aims to take the guesswork out of nutrition by decoding labels into one clear rating. One star rating means good, two is better and three is the best.
Products without any stars either mean the item is not nutritionally recommended, new to the program and hasn’t been rated yet, has less than 5 calories like tea or water, is a dietary supplement or medical food such as baby formula or the product does not have nutrition information available.
I recently interviewed Stop & Shop’s Nutritionist, Julie Hersey, MS, RDN, LDN for a little more information:
Me: The Guiding Stars program sounds great on paper to help customers make better choices at the grocery store. What are the different ratings and what differentiates between something being labeled as good, better or the best?
Hersey: Foods earn a score based on the amount of nutrients it provides per 100 calories. Credits are given for nutrients that we want more of, such as vitamins, minerals, dietary fiber, whole grains omega-3’s and debits for saturated fat, trans fat, added sugar and added sodium. The net score of a product is then translated into a Guiding Stars rating of 0, 1, 2, or 3 Stars. Only foods with a score above zero, indicating that the positive than negative nutrients, earn stars.
Me: What is the criteria for each rating?
Hersey: The Guiding Stars algorithm evaluates products based on the information found on the Nutrition Facts label and ingredient list. For foods that are not labeled, such as meats, fruits, seafood, and vegetables, the program uses information obtained from the USDA’s National Nutrient Database. Prior to evaluation, all foods are standardized to a 100 kilocalorie (kcal) serving size. This standardization allows the consumer to compare products side by side and adjusts for serving size variation of the same product due to food packaging, as well as water weight. Four (4) separate algorithms are used to generate the Guiding Stars® ratings – 1) general foods and beverages, 2) meats/poultry/seafood/dairy/nuts, 3) fats and oils, and 4) infant and toddler foods.
Me: There are many different diets, what diet would you say these nutritional guidelines most align with?
Hersey: The Guiding Stars nutrition guidance program is based on national and international policies and aligns with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA). The Guiding Stars algorithm is structured to align with the most current scientific research as it relates to nutrition and health. The Guiding Stars Scientific Advisory Panel reviews the algorithm on a regular basis and makes changes as needed. The program serves as a guide to encourage selecting and consuming more nutrient-dense foods which can fit into an overall healthy lifestyle. Other factors including: portion size, cooking techniques, variety, exercise, weight and health status all help define an individual’s healthy diet.
Me: How does a product get rated and who determines if it gets a rating? There are so many in Stop & Shop, I can’t imagine going through every single one!
Hersey: The Guiding Stars team captures and processes all product data and is verified through a multi-level quality control process including a large database of product photos. Since manufacturers often reformulate product ingredients and packaging, the team maintains an update/audit program to ensure the data is current.
Me: How long will it take a new product to get a rating so people don’t mistake it for being a poor choice?
Hersey: Guiding Stars has close relationship with its supermarket partners and most items are rated before they even hit the shelf. Guiding Stars also ensures the data is current with a robust audit process. If you don’t see a star it means it doesn’t meet the criteria of the program. If you have a question about a rating or why a product doesn’t earn star, just snap a picture of the product’s price tag and email it to firstname.lastname@example.org and they will be in touch with details.
Me: How/Where can shoppers find these ratings? Are they all over the store mixed in or separate aisles?
Hersey: See accompanying image (price tag). The Guiding Stars indicator icon will appear next to the price of an item if it ‘earns’ stars. Customers can find over 9,000 star-rated products throughout the entire store.
Me: Given we all know fruits and vegetables are good for you, I assume those are not rated, right?
Hersey: Every item in the store is rated, including produce. My favorite tip is that all fresh fruits and vegetables earn at least one star! Since the nutrient-density varies among produce can vary (volume of water, fiber, vitamins, minerals), some earn even more stars. For example, white potato (2 stars) versus sweet potatoes (3 stars).
Me: Anything else you want to add?
Hersey: The program is designed for comparing food in similar food groups or food categories, such as one yogurt versus another. It is not designed to compare foods across categories, for example yogurt versus soup.
I already am a huge fan of Nature’s Promise®, Stop & Shop’s private label for free from and organic products at affordable prices and Guiding Stars is another example of their commitment to giving its shoppers the tools they need to quickly identify the food attributes that are important to them. It helps speed of the grocery shopping process which is so critical for busy professionals as well as moms shopping with babies and children!
In the summer Stop & Shop is our go to grocery store in Dennis, MA but when we are in Boston, we try and check out the Somerville location for some of my favorite healthy foods that I can’t get at the grocery stores within walking distance of our home.