Decoding Healthy Food Jargon, from RDIs to Health Star Ratings

Do you know or saturated fat from your refined sugar? Our nutritionist has broken down some popular health claims and ratings into simple, bite-sized pieces to help you feel more informed when choosing food for you and yours!

Starts for Health

What is a Health Star Rating?

This one is actually pretty simple! The Health Star Rating is a front-of-pack labelling system that rates the overall nutritional profile of packaged food and assigns it a rating from ½ a star to 5 stars. It provides a quick, standard way to compare similar packaged foods. The more stars, the healthier the choice.

Keep in mind that it is still important to look at the ingredients list and the nutritional panel as a more specific guide. The star rating can be quite general but it is an easy place to start!

Nutrition Info Table

What is an RDI?

RDI stands for Recommended Daily intake and is commonly used on supplements packaging. On foods, it is often labelled as ‘DI’ or daily intake.

RDI’s are often found on packaging as a percentage. This percentage tells you what proportion of the recommended daily amount of a nutrient an item contains.

The total RDI is equivalent to the average, daily dietary intake level that is sufficient to meet the nutrient requirements of nearly all (97-98%) healthy individuals in a particular life stage and gender group. Percentages on packaging are often calculated based on an ‘average’ adult however average RDIs are available for a range of age brackets (including children), across genders from the Ministry of Health.

Foods with Magnesium

Macro vs. Micro Nutrients... Help!

First, let’s take it up a level. Simply put, a nutrient is a substance that provides nourishment essential for the maintenance of life and for growth.

There are two types of essential nutrients:

Macronutrients in the form of Carbohydrates, Proteins and Fats provide energy in the form of calories or kilojoules.

  • Carbohydrates generally make up 45-65% of our total calories per day. Some examples of carbohydrates include grains, bread, rice, cereal, oats, potato & kumara.
  • Proteins generally make up 15-25% of our total calories per day. Some examples of proteins are chicken, red meat (lamb, beef), pork, fish, eggs, tofu & beans.
  • Fats generally make up 20-35% (no more than 10% should be saturated fat) of our total calories per day. Some examples of fats include butter, oils, peanut butter, avocado & nuts and seeds.
  • Water – Water is also technically classified as a macronutrient as our bodies need water in large amounts, however, water does not provide us with energy like carbohydrates, proteins and fats.


And Micronutrients, typically in the form of vitamins & minerals, are not required for energy but play many other essential roles in the body. There are too many to list here but they include things like Vitamin C, magnesium and calcium.


Low Sugar / Sugar Free / No Refined Sugar - What's the Difference?

Great question! Let’s break it down:

  • Low Sugar – This means the food product contains no more sugars than 2.5g per 100mL for a liquid food or 5g per 100g for a solid food
  • Sugar-Free – This means the food meets the conditions for a nutrition content claim about low sugar.
  • Reduced sugar OR Light/Lite – The food contains at least 25% fewer sugars than in the same amount of reference food – look for an asterisk.
  • Refined sugar – Sugar is naturally found in many foods, including fruits, vegetables, dairy, grains, and even nuts and seeds. To produce refined sugar, sugar is extracted from those places it naturally occurs (typically from sugar cane, sugar beets or corn) and then processed to become the typical white sugars we think of today. They can be sold as is or added to a huge number of other food products.
  • No Refined sugar – Products claiming to contain no refined sugar generally do not contain any added refined white sugar. This should not however be taken to mean they do not contain sugar. The products could contain any number of sugar sources such as honey, maple syrup, fruits and more. This claim is not a regulated claim.
Oil Mix

Same thing with fat, what's the difference between Low in Fat, Reduced Fat & Fat Free?

Fat is an essential macronutrient energy source with 9 calories per gram.

  • To be considered Low in Fat, the total fat in a portion of food should be less than 10g/100g (or 10%).
  • To claim Reduced Fat – The food product or item must contain at least 25% less fat than the regular product to which it is being compared, and at least 3g less fat per 100g of food.
  • To be Fat Free – The food product or item must have less than 0.5 gram of fat per serving.
  • Bonus… What about saturated fat? Saturated Fat increases total cholesterol by increasing the ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol, so it should be eaten in the smallest amounts. We should aim to reduce saturated fats in the foods we eat, and where fat is used, choose monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.
Eggs for Breakfast

What does high protein mean?

Protein is the building block of your muscles. Eating adequate amounts of protein supports the maintenance of muscle mass and muscle growth when you do strength training. 

To claim to be a good source of protein, the food must contain at least 10g of protein per serving.

Those that follow a high-protein diet can be consuming anywhere from 30-50% of their total daily calories as protein. Typical sources include lean beef, chicken or poultry, pork, salmon and tuna, eggs, and soy.

Woman with Shake

Why is Food Fortified?

Fortified foods are those that have nutrients added to them that don’t naturally occur in the food. These additions are meant to improve nutrition and add health benefits.

It is common practice for food manufacturers to add micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) into their food products.

The reason a food is fortified could be mandatory or voluntary. For example, a macronutrient could be added in order to help improve the nutritional status of a population. On the other hand, nutrients are added to some food products in order to simply make the product a more valuable source of nutrients.

Common foods that are regularly fortified include milk, salt, bread, spreads, breakfast cereals and supplementary foods and drinks.

Immune system support

What is a superfood?

A superfood is typically a nutrient-dense food which means that each mouthful is packed full of good stuff!

Should we include superfoods in our everyday diet?

Totally, but know that they are optional, and that superfood is often a term used to market food, rather than a scientific description. Goji berries and matcha are not the only nutrient-dense foods, some examples of every day, wallet-friendly superfoods include blueberries, herbs, greens, beans & whole grains, nuts & seeds, salmon & sardines. 

What Does Gluten Free Mean?

Gluten is a protein that is naturally found in many grains, including wheat, barley and rye. It’s common in foods such as bread, pasta, pizza and cereal. Gluten provides no essential nutrients but rather it acts as a binder, holding food together and adding a stretchy quality. 

People with Coeliac Disease avoid gluten entirely and people with a gluten intolerance avoid gluten too. This means they look for products that are gluten free.

For food to be labelled as gluten-free (in Australia and NZ), there must be no detectable gluten, nor oats or their products, nor cereals containing gluten that may have been malted, or their products in the item.

Other products can be formulated without gluten which means the product does not contain any ingredients containing wheat or gluten, however, the final product may not be tested for this allergen, so the claim the product is wheat or gluten-free cannot be made.