Saturday, July 11, 2009


Last week while grocery shopping, a brochure caught my eye. It was for something called NuVal which sounds like some type of gimmicky product. After several days, I finally got around to reading it.

What is
NuVal? Apparently, it is a new scoring system for foods. Currently, it is debuting at the stores Price Chopper, HyVee, and Meijer. The premise of the scoring system is to rate the health of food products based on a scale of 1-100, 1 having the least nutrition and 100 the most nutrition. The idea is that this simple system (like an at-a-glance) will help enable consumers to make informed decisions about the foods they buy as well as give an ability to compare products based on price and nutrition.

scoring system is based on the Overall Nutritional Quality Index (ONQI) algorithm which considers over 30 nutrients and takes into account trans fats, quality of macronutrients, and the density of food products. The development of the NuVal system itself is headed by Dr. David Katz, an Associate Professor of Public Health at Yale University School of Medicine, along with 12 other experts in medicine, nutrition, and public health. Their goal is to havea NuVal score for the over 50,000 food products in an average store. One nice thing is that this is independently funded, so there is no promotion by manufacturers or other food companies.

In general, I think this is an interesting approach to take, much better than displaying calories on menus, billboards, etc. In the "
Nutritional Insights" section of the website, it emphasizes that there are no "good" or "bad" NuVal scores--that it's just an objective tool. It makes the point that you don't have to buy the highest NuVal score, but rather that you may simply choose a product because you love it. That's actually an important statement for me to read as I have a tendency to base my food choices on the highest value of nutrition versus just taste. (post here on health versus instinct)

It will be interesting to see how this works and whether consumers catch on to using
this system. There does seem to be more of an educational aspect here than just good calories and bad calories.

What is your opinion? Could this be a valuable tool for consumers and their food choices? Would/will you use this system?


Cammy said...

Wow, I hadn't heard of this, fascinating! Although it does seem like another way for us to obsess over numbers and quantification when it comes to food, instead of intuition. Even though they caution against seeing foods as "good" or "bad," I have a hard time believing that many people won't view something with a score of 8 as "worse" than something with a score of 98.

Serving size is not a factor, which could lead some people to that fallacy of the "low fat cookie craze" in the 90's, where people thought they could eat an entire box of Healthy Choice snacks because they were "healthy." Also, what is high-scoring for one person could be low-scoring for another, depending on their conditions, life stage, etc (people with celiac disease, for example, would be harmed by many high-ranking items).

Still, a very interesting and novel idea. Most people are oblivious to the fact that you can be overweight and yet still undernourished in terms of vitamins, minerals, etc, I can see how using this to evaluate things like school lunches, etc, could be very valuable.

I do have a hard time with the fact that iceberg lettuce has an 82, though, only slightly less than avocado and much higher than passion fruit! But overall very interesting. I noticed it is funded/sponsored by a "privately held cooperative of retailers and wholesalers," along with a hospital, so that fact alone might help it to make a fast advance into advertising and packaging.

Ok, that is my scientific compulsion to pick everything apart at the seams, sorry! But very, very intriguing, thanks for bringing this to our attention!

I Hate to Weight said...

as i often do, i find it all exhausting. i spent too many years over-involved in what i ate -- every friggin' bite.

for me (and this is just me), the less i focus on it all, the better. i try really hard to eat when i'm hungry, balance what i eat (i really tend toward sweets) and forgive myself when i eat decidedly past "full". more attention than that turns me into a nut.

BUT, if this NuVal works for others, let it roll. something that works for someone else is something i'd get behind.

Kara said...

Thanks for posting about this. I've heard of some grocery stores putting stars or something next to products that are healthy, but NuVal system sounds a lot better.

Tiptoe said...

Cammy, I agree with your points. We live in a number-obsessed society, and that doesn't seem to be changing any time soon.

As for "good" and "bad," people will use it however they deem fit. But I do think in general, many people do not know what healthy foods really are. So in that aspect, it can provide some education. I do agree with the iceberg lettuce bit, and most of that score is probably just because it is technically in the "vegetable" group.

As for portion control, this is certainly a downfall of this system and one that needs to be addressed. But how do you go about doing that really? Most have no clue what portion sizes are or how to gauge them.

If all of us could eat intuitively, well, there just wouldn't be as many weight issues as there are today. The fact is that most cannot and do need something to tell them.

It's true that the scores would be different for people, especially if there is a certain illness. I guess they are hoping that people would be educated enough to know the foods they need to buy according to their illness. Hard to say though.

Lissy, yes, it can be all exhausting. I don't know honestly how much I will pay attention to these numbers. I already have a good knowledge, so for me it still boils down to a bit of "moral" issue as well as some preference thrown in.

Bu this system might be helpful to other people.

Kara, yes, this is a step up from stars. It will be interesting to see whether it catches on in other stores.

HikerRD said...

As you can see from my post (, my overall sentiment is quite negative about this NuVal system. Perhaps created with good intentions,in an effort to oversimplify food choices there's the potential for a lot of collateral damage. Glad you posted on this. Not too many of us have.
Lori Lieberman, RD, CDE, MPH, LDN