How Does the NuVal Food Scoring System Work?

By , SparkPeople Blogger

Last week I shared a few ways grocery stores are changing to better inform their patrons. More and more stores are including NuVal Nutritional Scoring information on item shelf tags. The system is intended to reduce consumers confusion related to food package marketing labels and claims. The scientifically based NuVal measuring system can help people make nutritionally informed food choices. However, that can only happen if you understand the system.

How a Food Gets a Score

An Overall Nutritional Quality Index (ONQI) number is calculated to quantify the level of nutrition a food contains. The ONQI algorithm relies on the Institute of Medicine's Dietary Reference Intake values as well as the Dietary Guidelines for Americans for nutrient quantification. Over 30 nutrients are used in the algorithm calculation. Nutrition leaders, public health professionals and medical experts included the macronutrients of calories and carbohydrates as well as factoring for the quality of proteins and the types of fats (omega-3, trans, saturated) and cholesterol an item contains. Other nutritionally relevant keys such as vitamins, minerals, fiber, antioxidants, sugar, and salt are also factored in the calculation. Nutritional influence related to published scientific literature is also taken into account with the ONQI reference calculation.

To score packaged foods, the nutrition facts label and ingredients lists are used as reference. Non-packaged foods like meats, produce, and seafood rely on nutrient database information. The focus of the calculation is the nutritional density of an item. It cannot factor other elements such as toxins, hormones, or bacteria that may be present so there is no influence of the presence or absence of these in the scoring. Likewise, since there is no widely corroborated evidence related to increased nutritional density for organically grown foods, growing conditions are not factors in the scoring either.

Using the Scores to Shop

If you know how to interpret the number, you can make nutrient wise food choices like a health professional. The scores range from 1-100 and the higher the number the richer the nutrients. By using the numbers as your guide, you can quickly scan the shelf to compare sale items to find a healthier alternative while still saving money. For instance, if your children love frozen waffles as a quick breakfast option like my teens, check for alternatives before grabbing the Eggo Homestyle Waffles. They only contain a NuVal score of 23 while the Earth's Best Homestyle Waffles score a 43. If you are trying to meet your calcium needs by eating yogurt, double check to be sure the Dannon Strawberry Yogurt you typically purchase is the most nutrient rich choice at 24. After a quick check, you may decide to try Chobani Strawberry Greek Yogurt when you find it scores a 64. How about the noodles you are selecting for your favorite lasagna recipe. Perhaps the Ronzoni Whole Wheat noodles with their score of 91 would be a good substitution for your standard selection of Prince Simply Perfect enriched noodles that only scores a 57. Be careful not to assume that the low-fat or lite version or an item will have a higher NuVal score. Since these options may also alter fiber or sugar content, they may be less nutritious overall, which gives them a lower calculated score. Use the online scoring information to help you make comparisons when you are preparing your grocery list at home.

Sometimes we choose foods like Crunchy Cheetos because we enjoy them for a party and not because they only score a 5 on the NuVal system. The fact that we enjoy blueberries on our cereal AND they score a perfect 100 on the scale is a bonus. Learning how to make nutrient wise and dollar smart choices to make the most of our food dollars is important. The NuVal system can help you when you learn how to use it as a guide.

Do you think this system would help you if it was in your grocery store? Do you think it would make price comparison more difficult?

Which of these salty snacks do you think has the highest NuVal score?

Click here to to redeem your SparkPoints
  You will earn 5 SparkPoints


These days I am suspect of all "industry ratings". I would imagine fortified/enriched foods may score higher but still be a less than stellar choice. Like I bet some Pop tarts rate higher than fruit simply because the are fortified/enriched and the fruit is not. Are we really idiots and need to be told that real food isn't manufactured? I see companies fortifying/enriching puffed, corn, nacho cheesy things just for a higher score. Garbage wrapped in ribbon and bows is still garbage. Report
I don't care one way or the other about the nuVal. Perhaps for those that eat those lovely frozen dinners and the like need it. Personally, I read the labels. I know less processed is better. I prefer to freeze my own veggies and cook from scratch! I add what I want to my foods. Report
Sounds like it enforces one particular eating style, and not another - whether it leans towards low carb or low fat, I'm not sure - but mostly likely it leans toward low fat, which really doesn't work for everyone. Report
I want to always be able to read the ingredient list and make my own decision whether or not it's healthy for me. Report
We have NuVal in our grocery story and sure it is helpful to know the score, but as far as using it for cost savings, it does not help. The more nutrient dense food is, the more expensive it is!! The numbers are so small on the shelf label that you don't even notice it. ALL food is given a score unless it is new to the market and not been asigned one yet. I think it may be helpful to the potato chip and soda crowd to make then aware of bad choices, but for me I rarely use it. Report
This sounds like a great new, exciting way to pick healthy foods, but I think it is directed more at the "nutrition impaired" consumer than those of us who already check labels and choose nutrient-dense foods like whole wheat over refined, fresh over canned, and so on. I think it would be a nice wake-up call for the frozen meal, cheeto, and soda lovers among us who might "know" that the 1/2 lb Hungry Man isn't as good for them as, say, a fresh salad with lots of vegetables, lean ham, a boiled egg, and half an ounce of bleu cheese (which I think sounds great for dinner tonight, actually...), but for anyone who's already in the Nutrition Label Perusal Club, it will probably just end up being a source of confusion and maybe even guilt, when we can't in good conscience pay for the higher-scoring breakfast cereal and have to settle for plain ol' corn flakes instead. I know not all the highest scored foods will consistently outrank their healthy-but-not-as-healthy counterparts, but I have a feeling they might. Report
Sounds like a great idea. But I would use as one of the tools I use to make a decision about what to buy. I usually look at carbs,fat and calories, if it came down to making adecision about healthiest NUVAL would certianly help. Report
Interesting - but I think I would still like to see the whole picture. Report
I am very skeptical of using a single number score that's supposed to tell me "everything I need to know". Different people may have different needs and preferences in the food they consume; a single "one size fits all" number doesn't cover that.

I look at a number of different things on a nutrition label, and I would likely pick (for example) a lower sodium item with a bit more fat in it than a similar item with slightly less fat but a much higher sodium content. Report
I think this will be good for people who might not want to read labels. I do read labels, and I read them carefully.
Thank you Huricane_ELE, that was a bit of a surprise for me. I was surprised that frozen spinach has the same sodium as canned. I never even look at canned spinach. I'll buy fresh sometimes.
And thank you KRAWRS for posting the answer. I guessed correctly. Report
I would LOVE to see this in my local stores! I went to the NuVal website referred to in the article, and it was fascinating to see scores for different things. It would definitely help me make better informed decisions - a much simpler way than reading the nutrition labels and trying to figure it out myself. Report
I think I will stick with the nutritional breakkdown on foods I buy Report
Thanks, KRAWRS, for posting the answer to the question.

This in theory sounds good, but will probably be something that drives up costs and will be confusing and useless to most people. Report
Sorry, I don't think it will help me. I plan on eating fresh, and when I can't, I will continue to read the nutritional information. What ingredients, how much of each nutrient, # of calories goes into consideration for a complete meal. Depending on NuVal could result in a meal without the variety of daily nutrients needed. Report
must be an American thing. Never heard of it up here in Canada Report
You had to actually look all this up to find the answer. Scores are:

Chex Mix Traditional Snack Mix ... 13 points

Garden of Eatin' Blue Chip Tortilla Chips ..... 40 points (winner!)

Baked Lays Original Potato Crisp .... 24 points

Snyders of Hanover Honey Wheat Pretzel .... 23 points Report
What is the correct answer? Report
I agree with most others. I want to look at the ingredients myself. I don't want to be lazy and have it affect me later. Report
Sounds like an "easy out" for big companies to avoid putting ingredients on the label-------not for me!! Report
Something like this would probably be a great idea since most people have not the foggiest notion about nutrition.

However, the way our system is, NuVal, like almost everything else, will be manipulated by the biggest food processors and agribusiness to serve their interests. Kind of how these high-sugar kiddy cereals can advertise themselves as "high-fiber.". Give me a break.

Ultimately it is up to all of us to educate ourselves about nutrition and to not believe everything that is on the shelf tags. Report
In my opinion...the first two things on a label are fiber content and sodium content, then others, like saturated fat, sugars, and cal.last!!! If your watching the first 4, then the cals will fall into place automatically. This new system may be trying to convince shoppers that they don't need to check the labels for themselves, but it is a ruse! Always check, the sodium and saturated fats are real important to everyone who is trying to eat healthy!!! Report
Interesting, but I don't think I would purchase on that alone. I like to read the actual numbers for each nutrient so I get a better overall balance in my diet. Report
I would much rather read the nutrition and ingredients myself.. Report
This is helpful as a guide. I can't see stores implementing it. For example, I went to NuVal's own website and their database of foods is VERY small. For example, they have only 7 fruits listed... not even strawberries. Many of the brands I cannot even get here and have never even heard of. Until NuVal gives vales to the thousands of foods in the marketplace I can't see where it would be a person's choice in making decisions in purchasing food items. It is a good start, but has a long way to go. Report
So, we saw how we voted... which one actually HAS the higher NuVal score? Report
A STEP IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION - IT LOOKS VERY MUCH LIKE DR. JOEL FUHRMAN'S ANDI SCORES. It is a good idea for those just starting to eat healthier foods It will most likely help people who still eat lots of processed foods, but I am trying to get away from using processed foods, so it will have limited use for me. Report
I think its a great idea, I would just be curious to know if all products will have it or only the more popular brands that sell the most. HMMMM? Report
Sounds like a good aid for making wise choices at the store, but you still need to use your own brain and check labels and weigh your options. I'm cheap, so I would probably choose things that fall in the middle of the scale and have a better price, but I could take note and watch for sales on things that score higher. Report
This would be something I would have to really learn. I would rather read labels. I look at the first 4 ingredients. If it contains sugar, flour, hydrogenated oils, salt, I usually put it back unless it is something I really want and know I will pay for it later. Report
Love NuVal. I wish we had it in NC.
Check out blog:
One of their employees has a weekly blog about trading up to healthier foods Report
I don't buy much processed food, so this system is basically useless for me. However, we're all at a different stage in our journey, so maybe it's not a bad thing. Although I can't help shake the feeling that this system, like so many others in our American lives, simply dumbs down something that's really not so difficult to grasp to begin with? Report
I think it sounds like a great idea. but it would prob make decision making harder... health vs cost Report
Sounds interesting, a trainer at my gym was telling me about this at the gocery store, will have to check it out next time, I'm pretty good at the regular nutrition tags so changing to a new method might take some time. I guess only time will tell. Report
This sounds like a great idea to me. If you know enough about nutrition without looking at the label, then ignore the NuVal system. If you're like me and know generally what is and isn't good for you but have trouble eating right or just want an occasional "bad" snack or are tired of wasting time at the grocery store getting in peoples' way by looking at the back of boxes and cans, try the system. I don't usually shop at Brookshire’s but that is the only store in my area that offers this system, so I think I'll try it. I don't eat anywhere near 100% clean and if I did, I wouldn't be looking online for help anyway. If you already know without a doubt what you should be doing, then ignore it. If you’re like the majority of Americans and are obese or struggling with your weight…why not give it a try? Report
I dislike change in general. It takes me a while to warm up to new ideas. Right now I think it's just confusing and I'm not interested. However, knowing myself, I'll probably get on board with it later. Report
I would definitely use the system! Can't wait to see it...I think it is great for quickly comparing items. Report
I think it will work out great once everybody figures out how it works and we're all on the same page. Report
Intriguing, but I'm not sure I'd use it... However, if it's on the price tag that might help! I always look at the price per oz breakdown (fine print at the bottom of the tag usually), and if there was a score there, that might help me make more informed choices. :)

Jocelyn Report
I think it would be awesome once it's established and everybody has figured out how it works! Report
I think this form of food evaluation is as flawed as the next and will cause even more confusion. Boiling things down to numbers is always going to be flawed, especially when the scoring is not based on absolute nutrient levels, but is tweaked with outdated, unscientific biases. Fat free milk is given a higher score than 2%, why? Because it is low in fat? Well, the nutrients in that fat free milk are not going to be bioavailable and usable because it lacks the nutrients found in the fat. And you have cookies, for crying out loud, getting a higher score than beef!

This will be just another method to push low-fat items on an already bloated public who are heading into or already suffering from obesity and diabetes. The past forty years of pushing fat and cholesterol phobia on everyone has created an unhealthy and overweight public and this nutritional system is not going to help that at all.

People need to learn how to eat wholesome food. Wholesome food is WHOLE food, fresh food and variety cooked with care and love. Not some silly list giving everything points. You could buy a bunch of high scoring foods, but still fall very short on key nutrients. Talk about not seeing the forest for the tress. Report
I think this could be very handy for a lot of items. I hope it comes our way soon! Report
I'm excited about this system and plan to do my shopping at stores that use it when my husband is around. While I'm happy to mainly stick to whole foods, he wants easy convenience foods. I see him trying to make better choices, but that usually means checking to make sure it's trans-fat free and comparing sodium levels. It's a good start, but he still ends up with less than healthy items in the cart. This system will make it so much easier for him. Report
I like the Nuval score. I have 2 grocery stores within a mile of my house, one posts Nuval, the other doesn't. I find I feel a little lost without it. It is not the end all be all in my decision making process, but it certainly is another tool in the battle to eat well! Report
Food can be processed until it's lifeless, and until it is just a vague idea of the original food, then it can be "fortified" which will give it a higher score without it necessarily being healthier. I don't think this system is going to help people much. Report
have not seen it yet . maybe it will come to our area soon . i am looking forward to seeing it . Report
SparkPeople tracking gives more accurate and complete info. On many days I'm over on calcium and fiber. Adding more is not a help to me, so the NuVal score would not be a help in that case. Report
EH, I really don't care either way. For some, it will take the guess work out of what is or is not "healthy". I would like to stick to reading the labels. That way I can see what is actually in something. I like my diet to be as whole as possible. I know that doesn't always happen but reading the ingredient label helps me to choose products that have less preservatives. (Example, I just bought a small tub of whipped unsalted butter instead of the Olivio Light spread I used to buy. Caloric-wise, they are the same and for the most part, the nutritional values were close enough for me. BUT there were only 2 ingredients in the whipped butter and a large list for the other. To me, the choice was easy.) Report
Perfect way to outlawtax foods. below a certain score pay really high tax meant to stop us from buying it like the gasoline taxes Report
I read about this in one of the magazines I subscribe to just last week. When I read about it, and it explained how it was meant to be used, I was excited. It will help my son and hubby make better decisions. Right now about the only thing the hubby looks for is if a product has Aspartame in it. We avoid that ingredient, which means less soda for us since we don't drink diet sodas (a good thing, but it did take away one of my pleasure drinks).

To reply to a comment made by MOMOPWRS, the answer is can not survive on blueberries or anything else rated a 100. The rating scale takes into consideration of the calories, nutrients, etc. After viewing the video on the website, and pausing on the mathematical equation for coming up with the NUVAL #, (GOOD divided by BAD = NUVAL #), blueberries have nothing bad to fats, added sugars, sodium, all they are is good, wholesome, natural food and would receive a "perfect" score. Remember though, the NUVAL system is merely that....a system....a system designed to help the average Joe or Jane make better choices when comparing to similar items...not comparing blueberries to steak.

We're each going to make our own choices about what we put into our bodies. Some people are very strict vegans...they are not going to put anything animal related into their bodies, while others are going to eat like they're at a free-for-all buffet...nothing is off limits.

I, for one, will continue to treat myself to a bowl of Cap'n Crunch (NUVAL score 10) on occassion and will probably never try Hodgson Mill Unprocessed Wheat Bran (Millers Bran) cold cereal (NUVAL score 100). But that's MY choice! I know which one is healthier/better for me. I know that fresh blueberries are better for me than blueberry pie filling, but sometimes I just WANT bad food.

Use the NUVAL scores or don''s your choice. It's just one more way for consumers to be more nutrition savvy in this overprocessed world. Report
Our local store Food City has been doing this for tha last month. I really like it. It doesn't affect the price comparisons any because the tags are separate. Report
Close email sign up
Our best articles, delivered Join the millions of people already subscribed Get a weekly summary of our diet and fitness advice We will never sell, rent or redistribute your email address.

Magic Link Sent!

A magic link was sent to Click on that link to login. The link is only good for 24 hours.