Making healthy food choices isn’t always easy; not everyone knows how to read food labels or how to interpret them.

However, a new program is helping to take some of the guesswork out of grocery shopping.

The average grocery store carries nearly 50,000 products. With so many choices, it can be difficult to determine what’s healthy and what’s not.

A new nutrition rating system that uses stars aims to clear up some of the confusion.

“Customers can use it to make quick and easy choices in the grocery store,” says registered dietitian Anne Marie Armstrong.     

The rating system, used by the Atlantic Superstore, is called the Guiding Stars Program. Foods are given a rating of zero to three stars. The assigned stars are based on a system of debits and credits.

“A product would be given credit for things like whole grains, fibre, vitamins and minerals and omega threes, those are the good things in foods,” says Armstrong. “Whereas a product would be debited for things like saturated fats, trans fats, which most people know as those unhealthy fats and then things like added sodium or added sugar.”

Armstrong says consumers can feel confident knowing the foods have been rated by a neutral third party.

“It’s not based on a product’s manufacturer, or brand, or a price, so every food product is rated, not just certain manufacturers,” says Armstrong. “They don’t pay to have the Guiding Stars symbol on their product, so it’s a very impartial program.”

The program is designed to be simple and easy to follow. The star rating is located right on the price tag.

Dietitian Heather Barnes says it is a great way to get children interested in healthy eating.

“We often have kids coming in through the store doing field trips and it’s something they can really understand, they can identify it quickly,” says Barnes.

Roughly 40 per cent of the items found in store will have a star rating.

Foods with less than five calories, like tea, coffee, spices, and bottled water, are not included in the program.

Fruits and vegetables are mostly three-star items, whereas packaged foods can vary from product to product.

“As much as we like to promote that people shop the perimeter of the store and they choose fresh, whole foods, we know that people still buy processed foods and more convenience foods and there are a lot of them that will have star ratings, so it is a good place to use it,” says Barnes.

Armstrong says it is always a good idea to read labels, but when time is of the essence, shoppers can look to the stars.

“So, we kind of encourage it for those consumers who are running in after work, trying to find something really quick to feed their family and they know they only have 20 minutes to prepare,” says Armstrong. “They can look for one, two, or three-star items and know they have a really healthy meal for their family.”