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Shoppers Now Can Reach for The Stars

To keep the system simple for consumers, products were awarded one star (good nutritional value), two stars (better nutritional value) or three (best nutritional value) stars. Nearly 80 percent of the 27,000 products reviewed earned no stars for nutritional value.

The clear winners: fresh fruit and vegetables. "One hundred percent received three stars," Blumberg says.

Other high scorers included pasta (88 percent of the products reviewed earned stars), cereals (55 percent) and seafood -- 43 percent of those items snagged at least one star, and salmon earned three.

By comparison, the high sodium content of canned soup meant that just 12 percent of the rated items earned one star or more. About a quarter of meat products got at least a single star; boneless, skinless chicken breasts won three.

Soft drinks received no stars. Bakery products also didn't fare well: Just 7 percent earned even a single star. Cookies, cakes and pies had too much added fat and sugar and not enough fiber. Bread often scored too high on sodium to earn any stars.

In the dairy case, skim milk earned three stars, whole milk got none (because of its fat content) while 1 percent milk snagged two stars. Nonfat, plain yogurt also earned three stars, but most other yogurt received none because of too much added sugar. Eggs went unstarred, although egg substitutes, which are low in cholesterol, often earned a star or more. Margarine was not rated, but it may be assessed in the second phase of the program. Butter earned no stars.

But just as heavenly stars once helped mariners safely ply the seas, Hannaford's Guiding Stars are meant as a tool, not as a chart for the grocery store.

"We hope that people will use the stars to read the food labels," Blumberg said, noting that "it would be possible to pick [only] products that have three stars but still not have a balanced diet." The point, he noted, "is to help navigate the aisle that you are in."

And maybe also, Blumberg said, to help prompt food companies "to reformulate products to earn more stars. That's the underlying hope." ยท

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