Two New Ways to Shop for Healthier Food
How Smart Choices and NuVal Wanted to Change Your Shopping Habits
- They're all company-specific. Each seal can only appear on the products of the company that designed the program.
- There's no way to compare one program against another because they use different criteria to judge.
- In response to that very issue, Pepsi, Kraft, Kellogg and a dozen other companies banded together and decided to fix the problem. They created yet another seal.
The Smart Choices Program was created as a "single, trusted and reliable front-of-pack nutrition labeling program that food manufacturers and retailers could voluntarily adopt to help consumers identify smarter food and beverage choices within product categories that fit within their daily calorie needs."
Launched h in the summer of 2009, the Smart Choices seal is backed by industry heavyweights including Coca-Cola, ConAgra Foods, General Mills, Kellogg, Kraft, Nestle, PepsiCo, Unilever and Wal-Mart.
(Within a year, the Smart Choices Program was shut down after the Food and Drug Administration objected that is could mislead consumers about the health benefits of certain foods. As of December, 2020, there is still no replacement.)
Here's where the problem lies. Smart Choices, like so many programs before it, is designed to compare products that are similar. In this case, they divide foods into 19 categories. The problem is in the categories they set up and here's why.
One of the categories is snack foods and sweets. If you're a food company and your snack food (let's say potato chips) meets the criteria: you can put the Smart Choices seal on your bag of chips.
When a grocery shopper wanders down the potato chip aisle, they see the Smart Choices seal on a bag of potato chips. They may have also seen the same seal on a bag of frozen vegetables, fresh fruit or lean meat. The typical grocery shopper is NOT going to think, "Well, those are different product categories." They ARE going to think, "Wow! I can eat vegetables or potato chips and they're both smart choices!" It's a sneaky way to make people feel better about buying junk food.
The NuVal Nutritional Scoring System was completely different. NuVal worked by giving all food a score from 1 to 100. The higher the NuVal number, the higher the nutritional value of the food.
What made NuVal so powerful is that the EXACT SAME nutritional criteria was applied to ALL foods. When you go look through desserts, you're not just comparing your choice against other desserts. With NuVal, you're comparing that dessert against everything else in the supermarket.
Here's how it worked. The NuVal Nutritional Scoring System summarizes the overall nutritional value of food by giving points for beneficial nutrients and subtracting points for negative ones. The quality of nutrients is also evaluated, giving healthy fats a higher score and trans fats a much lower one. Even the way foods influence health long-term is taken into consideration. The end result is arrived at by running everything through the ONQI (Overall Nutritional Quality Index) algorithm.
With a simple number from 1 to 100, it was easy to spot healthy foods no matter where you were in the grocery store.
If you walk down the snack and granola bar aisle with the NuVal information, you would quickly notice that the average bar has a score of about 14. They're obviously not very nutritious items. Looking through all the labels, you notice that even the highest-rated bar, in this case, Glutino Gluten Free Breakfast Bars - Blueberry, only has a score of 40.
Even more enlightening, national brands that sound healthy are in fact, virtual nutritional desserts. The Nature Valley Granola Bars - Sweet & Salty Nut Cashew score a rating of 5 and the Kellogg's Special K Cereal Bars - Vanilla Crisp are a pathetic 2.
When you've got a food that scores 2 out of a possible 100, why would you buy it? NuVal makes choosing healthy food as simple as searching for the highest numbers. You can still choose the healthier chips by comparing their scores, but you won't be misled into believing potato chips are a healthy choice.
So what happened to Nuval? The original concept is gone. That simple scoring from 1-100 has been replaced with a label that Nuval says, “guide consumers to foods and beverages with specific properties (such as Gluten Free, Organic, and Low Sodium) that can help them live a healthier lifestyle.”
The idea was killed because food companies don’t want you to know the truth about the food you’re eating. Making comparisons that are easy to understand is so threatening to food companies bottom line, they would do almost anything to stop it.
Still, the most powerful tool you have at your disposal is the Nutritional Information on the side of every box. To help you use it more effectively, CLICK HERE and learn how to read the label in less than 10 seconds!
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