We all know that food marketers like to stretch the truth, so we shouldn't be surprised that a cereal billed as Total nutrition scored only 29 points out of 100 on the new NuVal--nutritional value--system.
A Yale doctor, with the help of a team of nutrition experts, developed the system, which is used to grade all foods from least nutritious (1) to most nutritious (100). The score is determined by an algorithm that rates various nutritional factors, adding points for things like the item's vitamin and fiber content, and subtracting points for sodium, fat, and sugar. It basically tries to condense all the information on the item's nutritional label into one number to simplify comparisons. Tomatoes, score 96, Wonder Bread, 23. (NuVal has a game you can play to guess scores here. It's kind of like The Price Is Right, except you rank nutrition instead of price.)[jump]
The Star Tribune headed to the Coborn's supermarkets in the St. Cloud area, which have been using the NuVal system since October by displaying each item's score next to its price. A Coborn study found some evidence that NuVal is already influencing customer's choices, particularly among pasta and yogurt brands. (The system debuted about two years ago and is also in Minnesota Hy-Vee stores.)
Local foodmaker General Mills is unsurprisingly critical of the system, which gives many of its products, such as Total, low scores. General Mills complains that NuVal isn't transparent about the particulars of how each product received its score, because it's a for-profit, proprietary system. But NuVal supporters say the system is credible because it's based on science and not influenced by one manufacturer or another.