Guiding Stars and Healthy Food Shopping Tips

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You stand in the aisle with your grocery cart, shopping list in hand. What was once an easy task has become complicated with expert opinions and media reports on what we should eat and what we should avoid. Loblaws hopes to ease your shopping stress with the Guiding Stars and a little help from a nutritionist.

The Guiding Stars uses an algorithm to calculate the nutritional value of food items, giving credit for elements we should be consuming and debits for elements we should be avoiding or consuming less.

Loblaws Guiding Stars Credit Debit

Walking down the grocery aisle, produce section or even the meat and fish counters you will notice the blue stars marked on the shelf tag with the food item’s price. Loblaws does a weekly audit, sending in the Health Canada nutritional data from the items carried on their shelves in order to get a Guiding Star rating. The only reasons for not seeing a star rating, either one, two or three stars, for a specific product is because:

  • it is a new food item that has yet to be rated
  • the product contains fewer than 5 calories and therefore offers no significant impact in your diet (i.e., spices, tea, coffee)
  • the item didn’t meet the nutritional criteria of the Guiding Stars system. If you look closely on the shelf tag you will see a small S0 printed meaning the product was rated and received zero stars.

Loblaws Guiding Stars Zero Rating Code

To be fair the Guiding Stars program isn’t new to Loblaws but they are expanding the program to cover their other stores like nofrills, Zehrs Markets and independent. This ensures a larger market of shoppers, even those shopping in discount stores, can benefit from healthier shopping guidance.

I should point out that the Guiding Stars are merely a guide to use when shopping. A good example would be my trip down the cereal aisle. I noticed Frosted Mini-Wheats received a higher Guiding Stars rating than Multi Grain Cheerios. Now I wouldn’t just pick-up the Mini-Wheats because of the higher rating but it did cause me to pause to look at the ingredient and nutritional data on the Cheerios box.

Loblaws Guiding Stars Comparison

As Loblaws dietician Shannon pointed out to me, a product with two stars is better than a product with one and a product with one is better than a product with zero stars.

That brings me to another way Loblaws is helping to educate shoppers to make better food choices, in-store dieticians. Many of the Loblaws stores across Canada have their own dietician on staff and their services are there for shoppers to use free of charge.

Loblaws Guiding Stars Tag

Now as parents strive to decipher the confusing “what’s good for you and what’s not” dilemma of products on store shelves or as we take over the shopping role of aging parents with specific health needs for diabetes or high blood pressure, Loblaws dieticians can help answer questions and guide your shopping habits.

And it’s a free service.

Simply talk to the customer service desk at your local store to set-up a one-on-one session. Shannon, the dietician allocated to my local Loblaws and two others in the neighbourhood, offered to explain the Guiding Stars program and share some helpful shopping tips that all parents could benefit from:

Loblaws Guiding Stars Healthy Shopping Tips

Follow the 80/20 Rule – We all love a little treat. Avoiding it all together could lead to over indulging when the opportunity arises. You can have the special treats such as cookies or frozen yogurt as long as it doesn’t consist of a large portion of your shopping, say no more than 20 per cent of your grocery purchase.

Involve the Kids – Buying food that is good for the kids is good only if the kids eat it. Try getting the kids involved with meal planning and preparation. Have them select the fruits or vegetables to use. Incorporate the Guiding Stars in a good food treasure hunt by finding a cereal or snack they are interested in but with the highest number of stars.

Additional Reading: Planning, Preparing, and Enjoying a Family Potluck

Not All Skin is Bad – When shopping for poultry I always look for a skinless option for health reasons but when it comes to fish, skin on is the best option. Cooking fish with the skin on ensures elements such as Omega-3 are absorbed into the fish. The skin can always be removed after cooking if you don’t desire it.

Multigrain is Not the Same as Whole Grain – It’s true, I’ve been lured into the belief that food labeled Multigrain is the healthier option but it’s really whole grain that you want. Check the ingredient list to ensure it states whole grain (sometimes also listed as including bran, endosperm, germ).

Watch for Hidden Sodium – I avoid canned soup because it usually contains high levels of sodium, something we’re recommended to monitor, but did you know bread and bread products can also be a hidden source of sodium? Be sure to check the nutritional details. Even Multigrain bread could have a lower Guiding Stars rating because of its higher sodium content.

Remember the 5/15 Rule – When it comes to the daily intake details listed on the nutritional panel of a selected food item keep in mind the serving size it relates too. The box of crackers may provide 5% of your fiber needs but is that based on 5 crackers, 10 crackers? It certainly doesn’t apply to the whole box. As for the 5/15 rule, if the percentage is below 5 than it’s low for your daily need where as 15 per cent is high for your daily need.

Loblaws Guiding Stars Nutritional Data

Calcium Sourced from Diet is Better than Supplements – My body has turned on milk, my biggest source of calcium, so I’ve been looking to other sources. Although you can take Calcium supplements it is believed your body benefits more from fulfilling your daily requirements through diet than through supplements. Food items such as yogurt and cheese are great as well as soy or almond milk (as long as it contains 30% of your daily calcium intake meaning its been fortified). Canned salmon with bones in are another easy calcium source.

Additional Reading: Tips on Freezing and Planning Frozen Meals

Armed with a better understanding of the Guiding Stars program and a few shopping tips, stocking your kitchen with healthier food choices will hopefully be an easier task. You can try using your new found knowledge with a little first hand shopping at your local Loblaws store. To help, we have one (1) Loblaws $50 gift card to giveaway. For a chance to win simply comment in the form below letting me know which of the shopping tips do you think will be most helpful to you on your next grocery shopping trip?

One (1) Loblaws $50 gift card is available to be won. Contest closes March 13, 2015 and is open to Canadian residents only. Winner must live near a Loblaws store in order to use the gift card. Please see full contest rules.

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122 thoughts on “Guiding Stars and Healthy Food Shopping Tips”

  1. Calcium Sourced from Diet is Better than Supplements , I tend to rely on the supplements and forget to be looking for alternatives , I can drink milk but usually only do so in my coffee , time to be more aware i guess !

  2. I like the 80/20 rule. I don’t believe you should cut out all treats. I think the 80/20 rule would be easy to live by.

  3. I like the 80/20 rule. It’s a good way to keep the amount of treats in the house down so you’re more likely to choose healthier alternatives more often. If you have a lot of the treats easily accessible overindulging becomes mindlessly easy.

  4. Knowing that multigrain is not the same as whole grain – I never realized that and it will influences my choices!

  5. I think following the 80/20 rule will have a big impact on our diet! I can’t wait to try it out.

  6. All great tips but I like the 80/20 rule and involving the kids. We don’t need to feel guilty about an occasional treat in the cart! Will be more aware of the stars the next time I shop!

  7. i’ve been mislead by multigrain products that weren’t really good for you. whole grain is what i go for now

  8. I love that many of the Loblaws stores across Canada have their own dietician on staff and their services are there for shoppers to use free of charge! That is awesome ! How did I not know !

  9. I like the 80/20 rule, I think I am going to try and focus more on it when I am shopping. That way we can eat better but still enjoy the odd treat.

  10. Watch for hidden sodium : that’s really important since there are so many food with lots of sodium

  11. Sodium! Since we had our little guy, we try not to buy a lot of processed food, but when we do, we check the sodium content.

  12. For me its the multigrain is not the same as whole grain. I have been buying multigrain this whole time as i thought it was really good for you.

  13. Remember the 5/15 Rule is a great tip. I often wonder about the percentages and will know have a better understanding!

  14. Right now I’m observing the 20/80 rule but I would be much healthier if it was flipped to 80/20. Useful way to remind myself that it doesn’t have to be all or nothing.

  15. My favourite tip is the 80/20 rule, it’s a great tip I can follow to help my family eat more healthy while still allowing ourselves a treat ๐Ÿ™‚

  16. Multigrain is Not the Same as Whole Grain, This one had me fooled. I will pay more attention to the whole grains now.

  17. I love this new guiding stars program! The best tip is that Multigrain is Not the Same as Whole Grain. It’s so confusing!! And to involve the kids is always a must because they should have a say in what they eat, too!

  18. Guiding stars will help me make better food choices – i will look at the # of stars on a product when deciding what to buy – i didn’t know stores have a free dietician available – that is very interesting!

  19. Not all skin is bad is what I will use the next time I shop. To be honest I never even paid attention to whether or not my fish has skin or what the benefits of it are. I will now!

    • I also heard if you don’t like eating the skin it’s much easier to remove it after the fish is cooked versus before Brenda. I hate removing skin in general and that’s why I always buy skinless meat. It costs more but it’s better than having to cut it off myself.

  20. I like the Not All Skin is Bad idea. I don’t like to eat fish skin, but like the idea of cooking with it for nutrients and removing it before eating!

  21. I like 80/20 Rule, everyone in my household would go insane if they couldn’t indulge in a treat every now and then

  22. I had no idea Loblaws had free nutritionists on hand!! And I love the race for the most number of stars idea!! Thank you.

  23. They were all great tips but the one I liked the most was Multigrain is Not the Same as Whole Grain, that is where I have a problem

  24. I follow the 80/20 rule already but I didn’t know about the 5/15 rule! I will definitely be keeping that rule in mind now

  25. I like the shopping tip to “Watch for Hidden Sodium”. Prepackaged canned goods hide loads of salt. Something to be aware of and make healthier choices.

  26. I didn’t realize this until now, but I subconsciously work on the 80/20 rule for sure! I had no idea Loblaw’s had in store dieticians either, that is so awesome!

  27. Multigrain is Not the Same as Whole Grain <- I had no idea. Honestly the name is very misleading. Will be on the lookout for the use of both words from now on

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