By Daniel Thompson

Main Street Market introduces NuVal system


Daniel Thompson

Susan Wiedman speaks to 6th grade students about making healthier choices when shopping in the grocery store.

When shopping for groceries, some residents may decide to go for more healthy fare, comparing calories, sodium levels and differing nutritional values. In past years, this has entailed picking up different boxes and different products and comparing them side by side, which some times can be a tedious process. In the end, residents may have still been left to wonder whether or not they made the most healthy choice.

However, recently Main Street Market and the Panhandle Coop System has introduced a new tool that will make the process much easier and the nutritional values of products more clear with residents only having to look at a single number: the NuVal Nutritional Scoring System.

According to a release from Panhandle Coop, the system translates "expert nutrition knowledge into a simple single score from 1 to 100". This scoring system, which was developed over a two-year period by a team of 12 nutrition and medical experts from leading universities and health organizations lead by Dr. David Katz of Yale University and Griffin Hospital Prevention Research Center, is located on shelf signs and shelf tags for consumers to "identify the value of any food at a glance".

Susan Wiedeman, Marketing Director for Panhandle Coop System, recently stopped in to see students at Mary Lynch Elementary to inform them of the new system and encourage them to use it while shopping with their parents.

"Back in February, we started something new in the store, and when you look at a price tag, you go to the store and you look at a price tag, you will see a kind of octagon shape, two octagons together. And in there is a score value which will tell you what the value of the food is, the nutritional value," Wiedeman said.

According to Wiedeman, while addressing Mrs. Fryda's and Mr. Walker's sixth grade classes, the score stems from an algorithm created by Dr. Katz which considers more than 30 nutrients and the quality of macronutrients such as protein, fat, and carbohydrates as a nutrient's association with various health outcomes of each score.

This leads to the score on the range of one to 100 on the NuVal system, with Wiedeman explaining that, much like a test in school, the higher the score, the better the product's nutritional benefit to kids and adults.

"They take the really good things in food and they divide it by the really bad stuff in food, and they come up with the number. So the higher the number, the better the nutritional value," Wiedeman said.

In explaining the value of the new system, Wiedeman pointed out that previous methods were more of a guessing game as nearly every value was based on serving sizes that people may or may not abide by.

"You can tell like how many servings, how many calories but then you have to figure out that there are, like in this box, there are 15 servings in this box. Do you guys get 15 servings out of a box of cereal? No, because we usually end up eating a little bit more than what it says. So some times the labels are a little bit deceiving on products," Wiedeman said.

Using the system, residents can have a more accurate assessment of nutritional values, even when in a rush.

"When you go to the grocery store and you're looking at all those products on the shelf, you can tell what's better for you or what kinds of things are better for you just by looking at the price tag," Wiedeman said.

However, the system not only serves to help students and residents be able to better pick more healthy foods when grocery shopping, but it also serves to clear up perhaps common misconceptions about foods that previously were thought to have a much greater nutritional value, with Wiedeman using the example of juice which has a score of 21.

"Now juice, you'll hear, 'Oh, juice is really good for you.' And it is good for you. But what happens to juice? What happens to the fruit? They process it a lot. They cook it a lot and strain it a lot," Wiedeman said. "What do you think that peeling or pulp in juice has? It's good stuff. It's a good thing. It's fiber. Fiber is something that helps your digestive system work well. And so when they process the juice and they cook it and they mash it and they strain it, all of that is gone. So that's why juice doesn't rank very high."

The point of the program is to make residents more aware of the implications of the choices that they make in grocery stores and encouraging them to make substitutions in the normal eating habits like adding berries to a bowl of shredded wheat instead of sugar or reaching for an apple or banana, which both score 100, instead of chewable fruit snacks which only score a 5.

The goal of speaking to local schoolchildren is to instill an awareness of the health implications of their food choices and hopefully lead them on the path to establishing healthier habits while combating growing trends of rapidly rising rates of obesity and diabetes in both adults and children.

"When you go to the grocery store, we want you to be thinking about what's going to be better for you. We just want you to learn and to think about the food choices that you make now so when you get older it comes a little bit more natural for you. And we want you to share that with your moms and dads, your grandmas and grandpas, aunts and uncles, and brothers and sisters. Because if we can get people healthier...they don't have to go to the doctor as much. And healthier kids hopefully will make healthier adults as you grow older," Wiedeman said.

To date, NuVal has researched and scored more than 100,000 products in produce, seafood, meat, poultry, salty snacks, cookies and crackers, cereals, frozen vegetables and other departments, according to representatives. Scores roll out by category over time, and eventually, almost every product in a supermarket will have a NuVal Score.

NuVal Scores are currently in more than 1,600 supermarkets in 31 states.


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