When it comes to smart grocery shopping, you are probably savvy enough to know that what you see is not necessarily what you get, that the promises of “lite” and “healthy” and “nutritious” on a loaf of bread or another item can sometimes be misleading.
Fortunately, many supermarket shelves are now displaying nutritional scoring systems right alongside prices.
The scoring systems take into account a food item’s vitamins, minerals, fiber content, sugar level, protein, calcium, sodium, cholesterol and other attributes and present them in an easy-to-understand format. This will usually eliminate the need to squint at the item itself and to decipher its small box of nutritional data.
Here are a few popular nutritional scoring systems being adopted at grocery chains around the United States:
NuVal Nutritional Scoring System
NuVal came into being about four years ago and is touted as being created by an independent panel of nutrition and medical experts, some affiliated with the Yale University School of Medicine.
Scoring relies on a patent-pending algorithm called the Overall Nutritional Quality Index. Each food item -- including items in the produce, meat and dairy aisles -- is given a score from 1 to 100, with a higher score denoting greater nutritional value.
Skim milk, for instance, gets a score of 91, while 2 percent milk gets a score of 55. The packaged, brand name chocolate chip cookie to go with the milk, however, gets a score of 11.
NuVal is in use at Meijer, HyVee and City Market, along with about two dozen other chains, according to its website.
Also touted as an objective food rating system, Guiding Stars goes by an algorithm that grades foods based on nutrient density, said its website.
A Guiding Star logo with one gold star next to a price tag indicates good nutritional value. Two stars indicate better nutritional value, and three stars point to the best nutritional value.
“Guiding Stars is not intended to tell you what to buy, but rather point you toward foods that have more vitamins, minerals, dietary fiber, whole grains – and less fats, cholesterol, sugar and sodium,” said its website “About” page. The system has been in place since 2006.
Chains using Guiding Stars include Hannaford, Sweetbay, Kings and Homeland.
In place at many locations of Whole Foods, ANDI also focuses on nutrient density, with scores for various items ranging from one to 1000. The acronym stands for Aggregate Nutrient Density Index, with importance placed on vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals and antioxidants.
Curious about which foods score a perfect 1000? The honor goes to a few star vegetables, of course: Greens from mustard, turnips or collards, as well as kale, and watercress.
For its part, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics says consultation with a registered dietitian or nutritionist is probably still the best route to consistently shopping for healthy foods.
A media release from the academy cited a Nutrition Today article that stated consumers are more likely to consider purchasing a food item “if a nutrition-health connection is clearly identified.”
In other words, consumers want validation that they are making healthy choices as to what to throw into the grocery cart.
Look closer at the shelves of your favorite grocery chain to see whether it has adopted a nutritional scoring system.
“How It Works.” NuVal.com. Web. 5 Sept. 2012.
“About Guiding Stars.” GuidingStars.com. Web. 5 Sept. 2012.
“Supermarkets Get in the Game of Nutrient Profiling.” Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics press release, EatRight. org. Web. 5 Sept. 2012.
“Top Ten ANDI Scores.” WholeFoodsMarket.com. Web. 5 Sept. 2012.
Reviewed September 6, 2012
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith