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NuVal system providing an easier way to choose healthy foods

By Marshall Connolly, Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
April 17th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

For customers at nearly thirty supermarket chains across the nation, there's now an easier way to decipher the nutritional value of their product selections. Known as NuVal, a private scoring system has been developed to help consumers tell if they're really getting the nutrition they think they're buying.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Reading labels is a time consuming process and few shoppers bother with it. It's not that they don't want to make healthy food choices, it's that they're busy. Instead of taking the time to read the labels, the make their decisions based on word-of-mouth advice, and marketing it's faster, but often a lot less accurate.

Unfortunately, marketing often borders on the deceptive and suggests you're getting more than you really are. Many foods marketed as "whole wheat" or "organic" are not as nutritious as you'd think. Many organic foods are still treated with chemicals.

Enter the NuVal system. The NuVal system isn't the final word on nutrition, but it does provide a snapshot of how nutritious an item is based on a single score.

Catholic Online had the opportunity to interview Robert Keane from NuVal and to learn a little more about this scoring system, which seems to be catching on across the country.

COL: Robert, what is Nuval and how does it work?

KEANE: The NuVal Nutritional Scoring System is a simple rating system that rates foods on a scale of 1 to 100. The higher the NuVal Score, the more nutritious the food. Scores are found on the shelf at more than 1,600 supermarkets across the country. NuVal Scores are calculated by assessing more than 30 different nutrients such as fiber, vitamins, sugar, fat, cholesterol, and sodium. These calculations result in a NuVal Score. You can learn more about how scores are calculated at this page.

COL: Why do you feel we need NuVal?

KEANE: Consumer need NuVal because despite our best efforts, it seems harder than ever to know the nutritional value of the food you buy. We have nutrition fact panels, but when you shop, how do you know if shredded wheat or Cheerios are better for you? What about trying to determine what yogurt or even what kind of potato chips have better nutrition? The NuVal System allows you to compare foods like an expert as easily as you compare prices.

COL: Who is behind NuVal?

KEANE: The algorithm that powers NuVal Scores was created by a panel of more than a dozen of the country's best minds in nutrition science led by Dr. David Katz, Co-founder and Director of the Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center in Connecticut. They took two years of collaboration to determine just how to best score foods. The algorithm itself is based on Federal guidelines for nutrition. NuVal LLC is a joint venture formed in 2008 by Topco Associates, LLC, and Griffin Hospital.

COL:
Who calculates NuVal scores and how is it done? (In a lab, etc?)

KEANE: The data upon which our scores are based are taken directly from the food products' nutrition fact panels and ingredient lists. Once we have this information, scores are calculated using a proprietary algorithm at a facility in Boston.

COL:  Is there any independent verification of your scores to ensure they are fair and accurate?

KEANE: Yes, a team of dietitians review each new score as it is created. We also take it upon ourselves to review products on a regular basis to ensure we update the scores of products that may have been reformulated.

COL:
What are the food manufacturers saying about NuVal?

KEANE:
Our scores cover more than 90,000 different foods products from thousands of manufacturers. In this situation there can be disagreements on what a certain food receives as a score. However, we do our best to work with manufacturers and explain why foods score the way they do. In certain cases, we have had manufacturers change the way they process a food, making it more nutritious and raising the NuVal score!

COL:
There's a lot of misinformation about our food out there. Companies know consumers will buy whatever they can cleverly market. Fads are real, such as gluten-free, whole wheat, and organic. Marketers slap these on the labels regardless of what's really in the product. Does NuVal address this issue?

KEANE:
Absolutely. We have said all along that one of the biggest strengths of NuVal Scores is that they cut through all marketing messages. No matter what it says on the package, simply look at the shelf tag, and you'll see the NuVal Score, right next to the price. Just that one number can sum up the overall nutritional quality of a food and ensure you are choosing the best option for you and your family.

COL: If NuVal is so great, why not petition Congress to make NuVal or a system similar to it part of the labeling laws?

KEANE:
The idea behind NuVal was actually proposed to the Government by Dr. David Katz. The Government decided not to act on it, so Dr. Katz took steps to create the system commercially. You can see it in his own words with this video.

COL:
What if I like NuVal, but can't find it in my store. What can I do to get me NuVal scores? Is there a website or an app?

KEANE: Right now, scores are licensed to supermarkets, so they are the primary place where you can find NuVal Scores. However, we are exploring other options to get scores to consumers. For instance, users of Aetna's ActiveHealth can access now access all our scores online. We're now expanding our reach into the health and wellness field to reach even more customers.

COL:
Robert, thank you for taking the time to answer these questions.

If you are interested in learning more about NuVal, visit the company website here.

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