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NuVal Nutritional Scores At The Grocery Store

As if all the conflicting nutritional advice the public gets wasn’t enough, a new nutritional scoring system for supermarket foods has been implemented in grocery stores across the nation (including Meijer and Price Chopper).

It’s called NuVal. Naturally, the system is based on the advice of the diet dictocrats — the people who gave us the food pyramid responsible for making us all fat (or at least chained to our treadmills).

You can tell how I feel about this already, can’t you?

The food is rated on a scale of 1 to 100, with 100 being the most “nutritious.” Now, you know I’m all about eating the most nutrient-dense foods available.

So, I want to do a little experiment.

You guys are all fairly well educated, right?

I want you to go see some of the sample scores that NuVal has made available on their website. I want you to choose one of their scores that you vehemently disagree with, then I want you to come back here and comment about why you disagree.

Simple, isn’t it?

And FUN? (I hope!)

If you’re so inclined, you can even include a link to an article or two that would prove your point. That way, if any readers are wondering about why you think the way you do about food and nutrition, they’ll be able to read something more in depth that backs up your point of view.

I’ll go first.

Here’s the first NuVal score I saw that offended me:

Under “Milk,” the only milks that scored 100 were skim milks!

Skim milks are bad for you on oh so many levels. (Want to know what I think”real milk” is? Read here.)

  1. Vitamins A & D are present in the butterfat of milk. If the fat is removed, those Vitamins are removed, too. Synthetic forms of them may be used to fortify the milk, but to what end? These are fat soluble vitamins, meaning that your body can only digest them with the fat. No fat = No vitamin uptake. Furthermore, your body needs the vitamins to be able to assimilate the calcium and protein present in the milk. So, no fat = no vitamins = no calcium or protein. Basically, fat free milk is a total non-food.
  2. Butterfat is rich in short- and medium chain fatty acids which protect against disease and stimulate the immune system. No fat = a weakened immune system.
  3. Butterfat also contains glyco-spingolipids which prevent intestinal distress and conjugated linoleic acid which has strong anticancer properties. No fat = digestive problems.
  4. Fat-free milk usually also contains additives to make it creamier, usually in the form of powdered non-fat dry milk. Powdered milk contains dangerous oxidized cholesterol and neurotoxic amino acids.

I could go on, but just seeing this short list has made me happier.

Now it’s your turn. Go rip the NuVal recommendations to shreds.

This post is part of today’s Fight Back Fridays blog carnival. If you want to read more interesting articles, tips, or recipes by lovers of Real Food (nutrient-dense, sustainable, organic, local, ethical, traditional food), go check it out!

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I am a passionate advocate for REAL FOOD -- food that's sustainable, organic, local, and traditionally-prepared according to the wisdom of our ancestors. I'm also an author and a nutrition educator. I enjoy playing in the rain, a good bottle of Caol Ila scotch, curling up with a page-turning book, sunbathing on my hammock, and watching my three children explore their world.

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34 Responses to NuVal Nutritional Scores At The Grocery Store
  1. Drew @ Cook Like Your Grandmother
    May 8, 2009 | 12:50 am

    “But meats can also provide saturated fat, cholesterol, and varying amounts of sodium… Remember that while lean meat may be a very important part of a balanced diet, it will never score as high as most vegetables… So don

  2. Anna
    May 8, 2009 | 1:19 am

    Arrrrgh! I’m with you on this one. These “scores” give me heartburn! I looked up breakfast cereal, and of course, the high scorers were whole grain cr*p that will bind up minerals and create deficiencies.

    The other one I tried to look up was cheese, but they don’t have a category for that ( yet). You know when they do, they’ll score fake cheese and low fat cheese-like products higher than real, aged and cultured (raw) cheeses because of the high saturated fat content of the latter.

    That’s what happened in the UK, with their red, yellow, and green traffic light scoring labels. Cruddy kid’s breakfast cereals squeaked by with green lights and real, honest-to-goodness UK traditional cheeses got yellow and red lights because of their fat content. It is any wonder that the UK is losing it’s traditional cheese producers, their health, and their trade balance is in the tank? British kid won’t even recognize a good UK cheese anymore. Yeessh!

    Yes, this yanks my chain!

  3. Katie @ Kitchen Stewardship
    May 8, 2009 | 6:49 am

    Right on! I got a checkout printout that told me iceberg lettuce was X NuVal score, so upgrade to spinach which is 100. Now I’m all about encouraging people to eat more spinach, but the “X” for iceberg lettuce was in the 80s! What??? Iceberg should be about 9, if you ask me. There’s nothing in it but water? This is going to be a big oversimplification and confuse a lot of people!! Thanks for posting on it, Kristen. Congrats on another successful Fight Back Friday!

    Katie @ Kitchen Stewardship

  4. Henriette
    May 8, 2009 | 6:51 am

    We have the signals( red, green orange in Denmark as well- absolutely ridiculous !
    And some newspaper posted about NUval as well.
    Sad to see nutricious REAL food but in the bad box !!!
    I am a low carb /no grain real food eater – and you are almost criminal here when you eat like that !
    – it makes me so sad and frustrated – but I know I am not alone ;)
    Maybe I should move to Sweden;) – there even MD

  5. David McBride
    May 8, 2009 | 7:01 am

    Are they going to get rid of the Nutrition Facts panel and replace it with this new system?

  6. Local Nourishment
    May 8, 2009 | 7:03 am

    Let’s talk about this one:
    Papetti Foods Better’n Eggs Healthier Real Egg Product 67
    Eggs, Brown All Sizes 33

    Let’s see. The contents of Eggs, Brown All Sizes is: eggs.
    The content of Papetti Food Bettern’n Eggs Healthier Real Egg Product 67:
    Egg whites (98%), water, natural flavors, sodium hexametaphosphate, guar gum, xanthan gum, color (includes beta carotene).

    Sodium WHA??? Wikipedia says:

    Sodium hexametaphosphate (SHMP) is a hexamer of composition (NaPO3)6. Sodium hexametaphosphate of commerce is typically a mixture of polymeric metaphosphates, of which the hexamer is one, and is usually the compound referred to by this name. It is more correctly termed sodium polymetaphosphate. It is prepared by melting monosodium orthophosphate, followed by rapid cooling. SHMP hydrolyzes in aqueous solution, particularly under acidic conditions, to sodium trimetaphosphate and sodium orthophosphate. SHMP is used as a sequestrant and has applications with in a wide variety of industries, including as a food additive in which it is used under the E number E452i. Sodium carbonate is sometimes added to SHMP to raise the pH to 8.0-8.6, which produces a number of SHMP products used for water softening and detergents. Also used as a dispersing agent to break down clay and other soil types. One of the lesser-known uses for sodium hexametaphosphate is as a deflocculant in the making of Terra sigillata, a ceramic technique using a fine particled slip. The sodium hexametaphosphate causes the heavy particles in the slip to drop to the bottom allowing the fine particles to be siphoned off and applied to a green ware ceramic surface. Sodium hexametaphosphate is also a whitening ingredient included in some whitening toothpastes. Some individuals may experience an allergic reaction to the ingestion of sodium hexametaphosphate that may produce mild chest pain. One case of this allergic reaction was reported to have been due to trace amounts of sodium hexametaphosphate found in bottled water. Studies have found it to create cancer of the pancreas in amounts larger than 2 g/hour of consumption.

    Oh! Well I can see how THAT would score higher than…eggs. What I don’t understand is this: if it’s so much better for us than eggs, how on earth did humans survive the last 5000 years and be healthy enough to perpetuate the species without it?

    Real food like eggs should be getting 100s. Plastic food created in laboratories should be getting 0s. Criminal that a system like this is in place. More confusion for the consumer, more diabetes, more high blood pressure, more cancer…what were they thinking??

    Local Nourishment

    • Jim
      April 25, 2010 | 7:00 am

      Ditto LN:
      Your closing two paragraphs sound very much like the NuVal “experience” I “shared” after registering with their “community” under a pseudonym. I’m sure it won’t be posted, so to summarize I stated something like:

      NuVal’s scoring system is not only nutritionally ignorant because it incorrectly scores Real Food that humans ate for thousands of generations before the innovation of agriculture, but it is dangerous because it promotes Industrial Food as being of greater value than Real Food. As a first step to understanding your ignorance, please read Taubes’ “Good Calories, Bad Calories”.

      That was me, shouting against the wind.

  7. Imara
    May 8, 2009 | 7:18 am

    I just shook my head when I saw this – it is really just sad!!! My biggest problem with the list is that coconut a superfood powerhouse was given a lowly score of 24!!!

    Imara

  8. CHEESESLAVE
    May 8, 2009 | 7:39 am

    The first thing I looked up was who was behind this.

    “Q: Who is Topco and what is its role in the development and rollout of the NuVal

  9. Emma
    May 8, 2009 | 8:40 am

    Uh… Where to start. As Local Nourishment mentioned, they have eggs far below fake eggs. Then they have whole milk (not ideal, but better than most other options) below (of all things) chocolate flavoured soy milk (shudder.) Here’s one for you, though: coconut scores a wonderful (!) 24, making it 58 points below iceberg lettuce (at 82!) Um… nutrients, anyone?

    Emma

  10. KristenM
    May 8, 2009 | 9:34 am

    Great points, Everyone!

    Ann Marie — Good catch! I totally should have wondered about that myself. I mean, a system like this wouldn’t exist unless SOMEBODY was profiting from it.

    David — No, the Nutrition Facts panel is there by law. This NuVal system is just a new marketing gimmick that is gaining popularity. It’s supposed to help people who can’t be bothered to look at the Nutrition Facts or Ingredients labels figure out what foods are “healthy.”

  11. Janet W
    May 8, 2009 | 11:14 am

    Well, if this weren’t so serious, I’d be laughing my a** off. They have “experts” to help you make more nutritious decisions. Ok, since others have covered meat and milk (I wouldn’t give commercial meat above a 53 either — I’d rank it somewhere around 0), I chose canned vegetables. My body doesn’t function well unless I gets lots and lots of RAW organic veggies and fruits. So I thought overcooked, overprocessed what-passes-for-veggies might be fun.

    Del Monte Fresh Cut French Style Green Beans No Salt Added 100
    Del Monte Fresh Cut Sweet Corn Cream Style No Salt Added 67

    Del Monte Organic French Green Beans 57
    Del Monte Organic Whole Kernel Corn 50

    Commercial mush scores higher than organic mush. I know, commercial mush has no salt. And, of course, we all know that ALL salt is bad for you. Riiiiiiight (yes, this salt in this mush is bad for you).

    Yesterday, for the first time in about 9 months, I went to the chain super market. I had some time to wait after I got done shopping, so I watched the people leaving with their purchases. Sad, sad, sad, SAD. I would wager that everyone had soft drinks. Oh, and this was a killer (literally). The person behind me at the checkout had “frozen dairy desert” or what was once called ice cream. Is it now so processed that they can no longer call it ice cream?

  12. Anna
    May 8, 2009 | 11:33 am

    I’ve been helping out a 71 yo neighbor who broke her arm in two places from a fall. Mostly I help by driving her to the doc appts, to visit her sister in the hospital, and go grocery shopping with her, about twice a week. OMG, I had the hardest time keeping my mouth closed in the store, but I did manage (I knew I wouldn’t be able to stop if I started). She completely falls for these sort of labeling gimmicks and thinks she’s doing exactly the right things. She makes no connection with her diet and lifestyle to her numerous health problems and lack of robustness. She doesn’t question why some people at 70 yoa are in great shape, very active, and take little or no meds and others are inactive, shuffling around and always at the doc office. She should see the seniors in Norway, riding their bikes up hills (in the winter!) that would make me wheeze!

    But in the car we have the chance to chat a bit, and we’ve had the chance to learn a bit more about each other. I make sure to include info about how, what, and why I serve for our family’s meals and how it benefits our health in so many ways (so she can see how it contrasts to the conventional advice) and how fit my parents are (they straddle her age and even though they don’t eat quite as I think they should, they’re doing much better than average). Don’t know if it sinks in, and maybe that generation is already set on their health path. So perhaps the generation of kids is the key, we need to create more informed kids to send out into the world to battle this “health labeling” baloney on *all* the foods, not just the SAD foods. The “natural” foods store items are just as guilty of this technique.

  13. Kyle
    May 8, 2009 | 11:55 am

    I don’t think any commercial cereal could get up to a score of 100!

    Kyle

  14. Jenny @ NourishedKitchen
    May 8, 2009 | 12:45 pm

    I think this system is nonsensical. Best of intentions and all. But it is so poorly informed. The fact that canned creamed corn scores better than fresh coconut or clams is ridiculous. This fat-phobic nonsense is going to make our nation’s declining health decline even faster. Worse yet, people who’ll follow this system will believe the BS and be convinced that they’re eating healthy. I can see it now – kids who need nutrients especially fat soluble nutrients – will be relegated to canned green beans and skimmed milk. BLEEECHHH!

    Jenny @ NourishedKitchen

  15. KristenM
    May 8, 2009 | 3:02 pm

    JanetW — Good find! Yikes. I guess that’s another thing we can criticize them for: there’s no concern for the SOLE factor of their recommendations (is the food sustainable, organic, local, and ethical?).

    Anna — I know how you feel. I’ve got a similar relationship with someone in my life, and BOY is it hard to know when to just keep my mouth shut and when to talk. You’d think that after YEARS of eating “healthily” and experiencing ALL SORTS of health problems, they’d figure out that their “healthy eating” isn’t healthy at all. People seem to think that health is like luck, when in fact it’s usually a DIRECT result of what you eat.

    Kyle — I’m with you there. All the grains are extruded and rancid, and even the “natural” ones are still practically indigestible thanks to the high phytic-acid concentration.

    Jenny — Nonsensical is a good word. Ann Marie pegged it when she followed the money trail. This is all about lining people’s pocket books, not providing actual advice on how to find nourishing, nutrient-dense foods!

  16. vehement flame
    May 8, 2009 | 5:07 pm

    I am not sure I understand the concept??? Why does junk food even deserve a rating? Do people really stand there and think I’ll choose this junk food b/c it has a better score than than that junk food? This is so silly. How does a whole real food fail to get 100? WHat in the world? We have a similar thing here called “guiding stars”.

    vehement flame

  17. Raine Saunders
    May 8, 2009 | 6:08 pm

    The whole system is really bogus, I mean, are people really that mentally incapacitated that they have to have a points system to guide them through the grocery store? Oh wait, perhaps people ARE that dense since the food they eat is a reflection of their physical AND mental capability. Please tell me it hasn’t come to this.

    I chose cereal because that’s one of my pet peeves since really none of it is nutritious or good for us to eat. The fact that all of it is baked, extruded, and not soaked or sprouted keeps me from ever buying for my family or encouraging them to eat it. I like how Hodgson Mill Unprocessed Wheat Bran is listed at 100. I guess people don’t know that wheat bran wreaks havoc on the digestive tract, but since everyone thinks it’s a health food, of course that will score so high.

    I also like their little “The Science” link to explain just how scientific their system is, formulated by “experts” from patent-pended algorithms. WOW! I’m terribly impressed! If you can prove this system works mathematically, you must really be a food genius.

    Raine Saunders

  18. Raine Saunders
    May 8, 2009 | 6:20 pm

    By the way, here’s another funny little web site I happened to find when I was searching for something else today, it reminded me a bit of NuVal (perhaps a cousin).

    http://www.fatcalories.com/

    This site shows you how many calories, how much saturated fat, sodium, carbohydrates, protein, and cholesterol is in fast food so that you can make “healthier selections”.
    The claim on the top heading of their site is that they are saving children from obesity and the planet from global warming. Really?

    Raine Saunders

  19. bethany
    May 8, 2009 | 6:24 pm

    I’m with Imara, the one that got me was coconuts at the bottom of the veggie list … please!!! So very annoying that this just reinforces the assumptions of all about what is/isn’t good … spreading the dictocrat gospel even more thickly on every piece of processed crap. Hmm.

    bethany

  20. Gina
    May 8, 2009 | 8:38 pm

    To answer Vehement Flame’s question:

    “Do people really stand there and think I

  21. KristenM
    May 8, 2009 | 11:33 pm

    Gina — I’ve never even heard of that book before. How wild! I can see why people who are addicted to eating out would be attracted to the book. If you’re eating out, pretty much EVERYTHING is guaranteed to be bad for you unless it’s a RARE local restaurant specializing in local, nourishing foods. So, if you’re resigned to eating crap, you might as well “minimize” it’s impact.

    Thankfully most of the people I know who are concerned about health have discovered books like Nourishing Traditions or The Maker’s Diet or Real Food or some of the other pro Real Food books out there.

  22. Blake
    May 9, 2009 | 2:31 am

    Why doesn’t LOBSTER get some love with their list? I mean, what the hell has lobster ever done to them to score a lowly 36? What on earth is unhealthy about lobster? And how do canned veggies score above 50? In most canned veg, all the nutrients are lost! Furthermore, how does any FRESH fruit or veg score below a 100? This is classic reductionist nutritionalism at work (thank you Michael Pollan!!). The only thing we consider is whether it has x amount of z nutrient, and make sure it has no fat, dietary cholesterol, or anything else that we’re burning at the stake this week. Do they give different scores between organic and conventional? no….. Local and shipped across three countries? no….. Whole, unprocessed foods, vs foods ‘engineered’ to go along with the latest health fads? no…… REVOLT! I WANNA SEE SOME TORCHES AND PITCHFORKS HERE!!! sorry…. I’m new here and probably overzealous….

  23. trish from "grow lettuce grow"
    May 9, 2009 | 5:30 am

    a sub. better than the real thing.
    this makes my head hurt.
    but i bet, 90% of the folks at my work WOULD, in fact, tell you that the egg sub. is better than the real egg. or that the low fat or skim milk is better for you than the whole milk, or even further that the milk at the grocery store is better and “safer” that the raw milk i drink.
    so sad.

    trish from “grow lettuce grow”

  24. Rose
    May 9, 2009 | 5:39 pm

    OMG! I’m in complete shock at this “nutritional” advice. I took a look at yogurt. The top “winner” was Breyers Light Yogurt, Boost Immunity Light Black Cherry Jubilee at 99. This is wrong because:

    - No fat = bad vitamin absorption (as covered by others)
    - FOOD STARCH-MODIFIED – aka GMO corn – aka a nutritionless filler
    - NATURAL FLAVOR – anything that was once vaguely related to food but they don’t feel like telling us what
    - ASPARTAME – fake sweetener, when my husband gave it up his joint aches stopped
    - ACESULFAME POTASSIUM – another fake sugar
    - RED 40, BLUE 1 – makes it look like there is more fruit then there is. Red dye 40 gives me head aches. Also may be linked to ADHD in some kids http://articles.latimes.com/2008/oct/13/health/he-foodcolor13
    - TRICALCIUM PHOSHATE, VITAMIN A PALMITATE, VITAMIN D3 – added vitamins to fake out the nutritional profile. Studies are starting to question if we can even absorb these on their own.

    The first thign on the list I’d even consider as food is Brown Cow Fat Free Plain Yogurt at 81. I’d prefer full fat but at least it doesn’t have fake sweeteners.

  25. Herbwifemama
    May 10, 2009 | 10:43 am

    I could have mentioned lots of things, but the first one I had a strong reaction to was coconut. But I see others have covered that, so I won’t go into all the reasons why the poor coconut got such a low score, but I will say, as someone else already has: follow the money trail…

    Herbwifemama

  26. Local Nourishment
    May 11, 2009 | 8:45 am

    Raine, I think it will have an audience because people are so confused. People who get their news from the media really do believe fat is evil. When the lipid hypothesis was debunked the media didn’t even give it a nod. People are listening to TV for what to eat. Commercials and news outlets don’t have a clue. Common sense has been replaced by CNN. Being told what to do is so much easier than trying to figure it all out.

    Local Nourishment

  27. Anisa
    May 11, 2009 | 2:54 pm

    Wow – Did anyone notice that Wonder Bread (a 23) is ALMOST as good for you as a coconut??? Who knew???

    I WISH this new system were a joke. I can’t believe we’ll have one more thing to argue agaist when trying to convince those 70 year old neighbors or other friends and relatives. Sadly, Local Nourishment is right. :(

    Anisa

  28. KristenM
    May 13, 2009 | 3:34 pm

    Anisa — Oh wow. Wonder Bread!! LOL. (It would be funny if it weren’t so infuriating!)

    Local Nourishment — People are listening to TV for EVERYTHING. What to eat, what to wear, who to vote for. Again, it’d be funny if it weren’t so infuriating.

    Blake — Hey, thanks for stopping by AND being brave enough to comment. (That’s why bloggers blog, you know. It’s all about comment love.)

  29. Vicki
    July 6, 2010 | 8:00 pm

    While perusing my local grocery store ads this evening, I was introduced to the NuVal system for the first time. I was intrigued by the idea and decided to google it just to find out more. Of course the first couple of results were the NuVal website itself. It’s a nice looking site, but very shallow content. So, after digging a little further all the way to the third page of results, I ran across this blog. I am one of those that several of you speak of so contemptuously. I know very little about real nutrition, it has never been a subject that I felt particularly strongly about. Now that I am in my late 30′s and beginning to experience some less than comfortable symptoms of “age” – I am starting to see the value in being better educated on the subject.

  30. Vicki, I can’t speak for anyone else, but personally I reserve my contempt for the people who know what they’re talking about — or should — but choose to promote harmful ideas.

    You can’t make a career of studying nutrition and believe that the NuVal system will actually help people.

  31. giantslor
    August 16, 2010 | 1:57 am

    “Vicki, I can’t speak for anyone else, but personally I reserve my contempt for the people who know what they’re talking about — or should — but choose to promote harmful ideas.You can’t make a career of studying nutrition and believe that the NuVal system will actually help people.”

    So, what — you believe all these distinguished nutrition scientists involved with NuVal are engaged in a big conspiracy? Give me a break. I’m going with the experts.

  32. Drew @ How To Cook Like Your Grandmother
    August 17, 2010 | 4:46 pm

    What makes them “distinguished”? That they all agree with each other? I can point to just as many people with just as many degrees who would say the whole thing is bunk.

    Here’s the main problem: Regardless of whether you agree with any particular health claim, reducing all foods to a single number can’t work. That means that NuVal is designed as some combination of marketing and public policy, with a stated goal of improving health.

    Let’s suppose all the medical doctors and researchers involved have the very best of intentions. They are not policy experts. So there’s no reason to trust their policy judgments.

    They’re also not doctors of psychology, so there’s no reason to believe they know how to change behavior.

    You wouldn’t ask a heart surgeon to do brain surgery. Expertise in one area doesn’t mean expertise in a different area. Just because there are medical doctors associated with the NuVal numbers, there’s no reason to believe they know anything about how to get people to change their eating habits.

  33. Karen
    March 14, 2011 | 6:15 pm

    It is too bad there is no way to ensure that the developers of systems like NuVal and the products with the highest ratings are required to absolutely adhere to their own recommendations, preferrably exclusively consuming the products with the highest scores, so they may all reap the appropriate benefits, and leave this world (quickly)… alone.

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Who Am I?

My name is Kristen Michaelis. I'm a nutrition educator, author, and mother of three. I adore hats, happy skirts, horizons full of storm clouds, the full-bodied feel of wind as I ride motorcylces, reading in my hammock, and a hearty shot of Caol Ila scotch. I'm also a rebel with a cause.
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