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?

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I do check labels, but unfortunately, if I want something, I'll get it. Quantity is what I watch. If I want something not so healthy, it is a small package, spread out over as long a time as possible without it's getting bad. I will by a small Snickers bar, cut it into 1/4 pieces (sideways) so I have about 12 pieces and just have 1 every other day or so. Just need that little "fix" and good to go.

Also, saw Greek yogurt mentioned on on Biggest Loser and tried it. Can't go back to the others. It's thick, creamy and I get the plain to add my own fruit, and make dip. Also good on baked potatoes and in a Southwest chicken soup we make. Report
I really don't think we need MORE science; how difficult is it to remember that less processed is better? It's easier to make a meal with only 5 ingredients so maybe just count the ingredients and/or check the first 1-3 ingredients (major players) and any %RDA for any nutrient you're tracking (I do salt and sugar, together; or, for cereal, fiber, sugar and then salt (I don't want salt in my whole grains/oatmeal, let me salt my own oatmeal if I want, Quaker! You're as bad as Campbell's soup!). Report
Thank you! I look forward to using this scoring system. It will be useful, and better than the glycemic index. Hooray for healthy choices! Report
I still prefer to read ingredients and more detailed nutritional information, both because then I know what I'm getting and because I've never trusted statistics--and a 'score' derived by algorithm is still a 'statistic.'

So, I voted for which I think best NuVal, but now I can't find the answer! Report
It seems rather absurd to boil all of the dimensions of nutrition down to a single-dimension 100-point scale. But I can't even begin to speaking authoritatively since Nuval is a proprietary secret algorithm. Needless to say, we should be very suspicious of algorithms we cannot inspect. Report
We have Nu-Val at my local grocery. Let's remember what the original intent of Nu-Val was- to help people who have no nutritional knowledge make better decisions without having to decipher labels or be swayed by advertising. The nutritionist at our local store as well as the dietitians where I work are thrilled as they counsel our population of women and children who come in for food vouchers and tend not to be as knowledgable on nutrition. The Nu-val idea is to provide guidance in choosing between say two boxes of shredded wheat or two brands of chicken or 2 jars of pasta sauce to get the most nutritional value for your money. For those of us who already understand nutritional labels and the importance of organic, free range, and so on, this system might not be all that helpful, but there are a lot of people who are not as savvy. I think if this provides some guidance to get people to eat just a bit healthier, then good for the grocery stores implementing it. Report
I'm looking forward to having the system in place. I think it will help me and others make an informed decision. Sure a lot of people will ignore it but it might catch the attention of others who will think twice about an item. Report
They use NuVal at my local Brookshires and I think it's great. You don't have to spend as much time studying lables to find out which is the healthier option. Plus, seeing those 1's or 2's on "naughty" food is a good deterrant from impluse buys for me. Report
How is canned spinach with salt added (82) healthier than plain frozen spinach (67)?! Just think logically, and ignore this stupid NuVal.

Well.. Lets Look:
Green Giant Spinach No Sauce Frozen :
Sodium 200
Carbs 3.0
Fiber 1.0
Sugars 2.0
Vitamin A 50%
Calcium 6%
Vitamin C 2%
Iron 4%
Now Let's look at the Canned Allen's Popeye Chopped Spinach:
Sodium 200
Potatssium 200
Carbs 5
Fiber 2
Protein 4
Vitamin A 60%
Vitamin C 25%
Calcium 20%
Iron 10%

So.... The Canned version has 2 more grams of protein, the same amount of sodium, 3 more grams of carbs, 2 less gram of sugar, 10% more of Vitamin A, 14% more calcium, 23% more of Vitamin, C 6% more of Iron then the frozen version.

And you wonder why the canned version scored higher? Before I would of thought the same thing, I think this NuVal thing would be a great thing but I have not seen it.

It's one more measure to use for comparison purposes. If a healthier item is more expensive but has a higher score, I might pick it.

I am curious, though, how the NuVal system handles transfats given that they can appear on ingredient lists but not on the nutrition label if they comprise less than 1 g per serving. I would love clarification on that point. Report
It seems interesting. If it comes to the stores I shop off, I'm very sure I'll use it to save time when shopping for something new. It will just take me a while to figure it out. Report
I don't think NuVal is helpful at all. It has a warped sense of what is healthy. It rates Kettle chips at 32 and a chicken breast at 39. How is a chicken breast only slightly healthier than kettle chips?! How is canned spinach with salt added (82) healthier than plain frozen spinach (67)?! Just think logically, and ignore this stupid NuVal. Follow the wonderful Sparkpeople suggested meals. :) Report
So if blueberries are 100, that mean all i need to eat is these and I will get my calcium for the day, along with my protein. So I can live on blueberries and nothing else.
One number does not cover it all. Report
So if blueberries are 100, that mean all i need to eat is these and I will get my calcium for the day, along with my protein. So I can live on blueberries and nothing else.
One number does not cover it all. Report
I think this would be helpful. I overall make pretty good decisions after reading labels, but it can be really time consuming. I think it would be helpful for my husband who doesn't want to spend the time reading the labels. Its definitely a step in the right direction, in my opinion. Report
I guess I'm not as skeptical as some. I think it could be helpful for some. And even to me. I'm pretty knowledgeable about food, but there are times when I am spend a whole lot of time reading labels when I am trying something new (or a bit of a guilty pleasure). So, if I am going to pick up the rare bag of chips, reading the labels of the two or three highest scoring chips would save me a lot of time, over reading 8 or 9 labels, which is what I do now. And I know a lot of folks have a problem with the UK's red, yellow, green dot system on their foods, but I found it helpful for the same reason. When grabbing something new, I knew to START with green dots and make choices from there--

A scoring system won't end my label reading, but it sure as heck could help me save some time! (and that's a big deal when shopping with a 3 year old in tow!) Report
As a future dietitian I think that this is a great start. Of course, it is new and there is most certainly room for improvement and I am sure overtime that suggestions will be taken to improve the system. Most of the public is not as knowledgable about nutrition as many sparkies have come to be and if a simple number can inspire them to pick a slightly healthier option or to think twice about what is in the food that they are purchasing, then I think that that is a minor success. I don't think that we should be too critical here. Baby steps in the right direction! Report
It seems to me that although meant to be helpful to consumers, it is just another ploy to manipulate both the public and the prices. Report
I like the idea but haven't heard of it. None of my local stores have posted such as yet so I'll be on the look out. Report
Reducing the nutritional value to a single number seems a great opportunty for comericial enterprises to manipulate the public. Since this measurement omits diferences between organic and synthetically enhanced products, it opens the door for companies to dump artifical nutrients and additives into foods, to boost their number. Canned Ravioli will have a score of 99 as soon and they can film a new ad.

It, also, seems to me that this system has the same limitation as the FDA Recommended Guidelines. Each individuals nuitritional needs are unique. Niether of these systems takes into account the different nutritional needs of women verses men, let alone the different requirements of medical conditions, activity level, and genetic predispositions. Additionally, FDA Recomendation are at least a decade, if not more, behind current research and heavily influenced by politics. Report
Yes, it should be in grocery stores it would definitely help make better choices... Report
It would be nice to see it around here and see it applied to more foods. I like that it factors in the types of nutrients such as proteins and fats and that it takes sugar and salt into account. Report
I would really like to see that in the grocery store. Obviously, it's just a quick reference, and doesn't apply to everyone, but at least it would give shoppers a quick way to see if they are choosing the healthiest alternative. Also, I think it would give companies incentive to make healthier products. Report
Maybe its because the site is new, but their food list is a little sparse. I think that it could eventually become a useful tool, but for now I'll stick to reading labels. Report
I would like to see it in my grocery store. It seems like it would at least help to steer me in the right direction. Reading all of the labels takes ALOT of time and this may help cut that down for me. Not perfect, I'm sure, but it is a step closer then we are now. Report
I went into the site and couldn't find the foods I was looking for. Seems like just another thing to use time I don't have. I looked for an orange. Only found juice. Report
I think this sounds awesome and I would love to see it in my local grocery store. Report
Oversimplified. It could have more nutrients and still be loaded with fat, sugars and sodium.

One number cannot give you a good picture of food quality. That's why here on SP we track at least 3 numbers (fat, carbs, protein etc.).

2/3 Report
I think this system will help people who find reading packaging confusing and will get more people interested in figuring out which foods are healthier to buy.. even among the 'unhealthy' foods.
I can see teachers using this system to teach good nutrition to their students.
Also vegan and using Dr. Joel Fuhrman's nutrient density guidelines (Eat To Live team).
I suppose it is debatable as to what is considered healthy and what is not. My grocery store instituted this plan last week and when I went to the NuVal website I found it singularly unhelpful.
That said, the basic idea is great and I think it may help undercut the misleading packaging on prepared foods and help people who have difficulty reading the tiny print on ingredients lists. Report
Although most of my grocery shopping occurs in the produce section, the scoring system might help in other areas. Still, as a vegan, I have other concerns and the system may not be entirely suitable for my dietary concerns. Report
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