Q. Can NuVal supermarket labeling help me make healthier food choices?
A. Choosing the healthiest foods should be simple. But when you're faced with a barrage of tiny print nutrition labels and questionable front of package claims, even the most health-savvy person can walk away confused. Nutrition ranking systems, like the NuVal Nutritional Scoring System, now on thousands of supermarket shelf tags, may provide just the nutrition guidance shoppers crave.
The system was proposed in 2003 by David Katz, M.D., M.P.H, director of Yale University's Prevention Research Center, with the intention of providing a simple guide for consumers to help improve diet patterns and curtail the obesity epidemic. The NuVal System uses the Overall Nutrition Quality Index (ONQI) algorithm created by Katz and his team of 12 medical and nutrition experts to translate the nutritional quality of food into a single score on a scale of 1-100--the higher the number, the better the food's overall nutritional quality.
More than 30 nutrients--both "good" and "bad"-- are compared based on amounts, quality, and their influence on health, based on published scientific literature. The 16 "good" nutrients include vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, and the "bad" are saturated and trans fats, sodium, added sugar and cholesterol. The Dietary Guidelines, package labels and scientific literature were reviewed to weight associations between nutrients and health.
Consumer response has been favorable. According to a study published in a 2010 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 80 percent of more than 800 study participants said the ONQI score would influence their purchases. Results on the health front are favorable as well. A study conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health between 1986 and 2006 examined the rate of chronic diseases in more than 110,000 men and women relative to their diets, which were scored using ONQI.
Published in 2011 in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, the study concluded that consumption of foods with more favorable NuVal scores was associated with a lower risk of chronic disease, such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease, as well as a better chance of a longer, healthier life.
Not everybody agrees
In 2012, the National Consumers League filed a formal complaint against NuVal with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, urging it to standardize nutrition rating schemes. The complaint was based on inconsistent ratings, such as a score of 25 for baked potato chips compared with a score of 10 for canned pears in light syrup, or a brownie mix that scores 22 while canned peaches in 100 percent juice scored only 20. NuVal does not retract the scores, but says that canned fruit is often high in sugar and can lose nutrients when processed.
With its goal to be the national standard in nutrition ranking, more than 1,600 stores in 31 states currently use NuVal. NuVal is an important step toward simplifying nutrition comparisons and making healthier selections.
(Reprinted with permission from Environmental Nutrition, a monthly publication of Belvoir Media Group, LLC. 800-829-5384. http://www.EnvironmentalNutrition.com.)