NuVal system prompts debate

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A nutrition scoring system that rates chocolate brownies higher than it does canned fruit? That’s reason enough for National Consumers League (NCL) to demand Food and Drug Administration to can the NuVal system.

“Canned fruit is still fruit,” says Sally Greenberg, who is NCL’s executive director. “What would you rather have your kids eat, canned peaches or chocolate brownies?”

NCL in May 2012 filed a complaint against NuVal, which is a system that independent health scientists developed and put into effect in 2009 in grocery stores. At stores that display NuVal rating signage, you’ll find a score (from 1 to 100) printed near the product’s price label on the shelf. Fresh blueberries, broccoli and spinach score a 100, while caramel-coated popcorn scores a 12 and chocolate chip cookies get a 10.

But 12 and 10 still are higher than the 7 that canned mandarin oranges or peaches garner. In a blog that responded to NCL’s complaint, David Katz, who is director of Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center, explained that the added sugar and syrup in canned fruit products reduce the nutritional value. He notes that fresh oranges score 100.

Nevertheless, Greenberg says she doesn’t understand how cookies could be considered more nutritious than canned mandarin oranges and adds that NuVal’s explanation for calculating a food product’s score isn’t made plain to consumers.

Robert Keane, who is a NuVal spokesperson, points out that information about how the NuVal system works and what goes into calculating a score is available on NuVal’s website. This is true, but apart from a vague formula that values various ingredients above others, we couldn’t find an exact equation to explain why, say, walnuts scored an 82.

We concede that the exact calculations for individual items are a bit of a mystery, but dickering over items that score 15 or below on a scale of 100 seems silly. We suggest that people who use the system simply aim for food that has high scores.