So the NuVal system, which I have been hearing about for a while now, is a scoring system based on a nutritional algorithm developed by two doctors out of Yale Medical School. The system ranks foods based on “30-plus nutrients and nutrition factors – the good (protein, calcium, vitamins) and the not-so-good (sugar, sodium, cholesterol).” The motivation for creating such a system comes from the idea that the average American has a hard time understanding food labels and an even more difficult time figuring out what they should eat. They’ve created a simple system to help people choose a low-fat, high-carb diet based on processed grains and soy, while limiting many proteins and fats.
At first glance this seems like a wonderful thing to help Americans lose weight and become healthier overall, but as I see it there are many problems with this system. To me, the most glaring problem with the system include the fact that it is based on the FDA and USDA’s dietary guidelines. As recent food scholarship from Michael Pollan, Morgan Spurlock, Marion Nestle, and many more have detailed our nation’s food regulatory agencies do not always put the health of American consumers before pleasing Ag-Food corporations and businesses. Who is to say that they wouldn’t bump up something like soy-based foods because of strong lobbying?
Although the scores are based on FDA and USDA guidelines NuVal is a for-profit commercial enterprise, NOT a government agency/program which probably means that even if they start out with the consumers interests in mind eventually some sponsor will buy them and their recommendations.
My other reservation about this system is that it’s heavily slated toward processed foods and clearly does not favor fresh fruits and vegetables. Clearly the ANDI scoring system recently adopted by Whole Foods is its biggest rival in this regard. ANDI, Aggregate Nurtient Density Index, created by Dr. Joel Fuhrman of Eat Right America is said to be based upon the overall nutrient density and it analyzes Calcium, Carotenoids: Beta Carotene, Alpha Carotene, Lutein & Zeaxanthin, Lycopene, Fiber, Folate, Glucosinolates, Iron, Magnesium, Niacin, Selenium, Vitamin B1 (Thiamin) Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin), Vitamin B6, Vitamin B12, Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Zinc, plus ORAC score X 2 (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity is a method of measuring the antioxidant or radical scavenging capacity of foods). By comparison its interesting that NuVal doesn’t just come out and say what they are looking for—they just gloss it over as 30 “good nutrients” and “bad nutrients.” I haven’t done enough research to critique ANDI as much as I am critiquing NuVal here, but trust me I’m sure I could find some flaws.
Lastly, I think that the problem with these scoring systems is that they are just little band aids on gaping wounds in the American way of life. They are trying to simplify things so that we don’t have to think about what we are consuming, but that is what got us into this whole mess in the first place. It might by idyllic and naïve, but shouldn’t we just better inform people about what is in foods, how foods are made, what foods will do to their bodies and then let them make the choices? The NuVal system comes with a set of ideals for what an American diet should be and it doesn’t really let the consumer decide what matters to them. What if its more important to me not foods free of animal-based products than it is to have foods without trans fats? What if I would rather have more sodium if it meant that I was eating a sustainably produced product? So I guess that although these scoring systems might be helpful in some regards, I’m just not sure that I will trust them with my own food consumption decisions.