Raley’s scores with food-rating system

Let me go out on a limb here and say that a nutritional rating system touted by a local grocery chain appears to be a simple, credible way to find food that’s good for you.

West-Sacramento-based Raley’s has introduced the NuVal Nutritional Scoring System to its 124  Raley’s, Bel Air and Nob Hill Foods stores in Northern California and Nevada. It’s the first grocery chain  in California to offer the NuVal system, a story in the Sacramento Bee said.

NuVal gives foods a numerical rating from 1 to 100 based on nutritional value. The higher the score, the better the food is supposed to be for you. The scores are posted on store shelf tags. Raley’s said the system was developed by nutritional and medical experts, not retailers.

I like the idea of  a simple numerical rating system. I try to eat sensibly, but I’m not interested in analyzing everything I eat. I check the fiber content of bread and cereal, which I eat a lot of,  and buy products with 3 or more grams per serving. Beyond that, my eyes glaze over reading the nutritional content on packages. The medical wisdom of eating plenty of vegetables has gotten through to me and helps balance the deleterious effects of binging on Sunshine Cheez-Its.

Being a career journalist, I must say that my skepticism was high when I initially read the NuVal story. Food manufacturers and retailers have a shoddy history of making outlandish health claims for their products. An article in the September issues of the University of California, Berkeley, Wellness Letter warned dieters about the danger of judging a food’s healthfulness by its name. A study in the Journal of Consumer Research found that dieters ate more candies when they called “fruit chews” instead of “candy chews.”  They assumed a “salad” dish was more nutritious than a “pasta” dish even though the ingredients were the same.

The study’s authors  pointed out that the food industry does a good job of confusing people by altering the names of products to make them sound healthier and lower in calories. For example, sugary drinks are called “flavored” water and potato chips become “veggie” chips.

The NuVal website says the system was developed by a team of recognized medical and nutrition experts led by Dr. David Katz of the Yale Prevention Research Center. The effort was funded by Griffin Hospital, a nonprofit community hospital and teaching affiliate of the Yale University School of Medicine. The team worked for two years to develop the Overall Nutritional Quality Index (ONQI), a patent-pending algorithm that converts complex nutritional information into a single, easy-to-use score.

The NuVal nutritional system takes more than 30 different nutrients and nutrition factors into account when developing a score. It also considers other key factors that measure the quality and density of nutrients, as well as the strength of their association with specific health conditions. 

The May issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine published a  study from the Harvard School of Public Health on the benefits of  NuVal scores. The study examined dietary data from more than 110,000 men and women taken between 1986 and 2006. Each food was scored by the ONQI algorithm and the average ONQI score for the diet consumed by each participant was computed. The study concluded that consumption of foods that lead to a higher score for the ONQI scoring system is associated with modestly lower risk of chronic disease and all-cause mortality. Total chronic disease was defined as cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes and nontrauma death.

The NuVal system seems to have medical establishment validation. Keep an eye out for the ratings the next time you’re shopping at a Raley’s-owned store. They may help you live a little longer.

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