How Does My Breakfast Score?

IMG_6867How would you rate my breakfast?

The reason I ask is because a Boston-area company actually does this for you!

(The company is not compensating me in any way to write this blog post; I just think their system is really cool and beneficial to consumers.)

NuVal is a nutritional scoring system that rates foods on a scale of 1-100, based on how nutritious they are. NuVal is being implemented in grocery stores around the country. It may not be in your area yet, but it’s an interesting concept to help you make better decisions about what you eat and feed to your family.

Melissa, one of the folks at NuVal, checked out my breakfast this morning and sent me the following scores for it:

  • Chobani Plain Non-fat: 94
  • Banana:  91
  • Peanut Butter Puffins: 24

I expected the Chobani and banana to score pretty high, but I was surprised by the score that my beloved Peanut Butter Puffins received. Melissa helped me understand what the scores mean on the NuVal scale.

It’s important for NuVal users to understand that you can’t get a 100 in every category. Many fruits and vegetables score in the 90 – 100 range, but you also need to eat protein, grains, and, of course, treats. You’re not going to find a cookie that scores a 100– nor would you want to eat one if you did! When talking about crackers, for instance, the scores range from 2 – 87. So, a 24 is pretty decent when you’re talking about crackers, but not as good when you are talking about cereal, which is why NuVal talks about medians and ranges for every category. Melissa further explains these ranges in her blog post: Goldfish Vs. Bunnies. Definitely check out her post– you might be surprised about NuVal’s score for Annie’s Cheddar Bunnies. I was rather shocked!

Okay, so back to the Peanut Butter Puffins. First, check out NuVal’s scores for cereal: Cereal Scores.

As you can see, there are some cereals that come close to 100, but are you really going to eat Hodgson Mill Unprocessed Wheat Bran for breakfast every morning? Probably not. The median score for cereal is a 25, so my Peanut Butter Puffins actually fall below that number.

A lot of people think that because they find their cereal in the grocery store’s organic/healthy section, it must be really nutritious. However, this is not always the case. Perfect example: Kashi’s Strawberry Fields cereal scores an 11 while Cap’n Crunch scores a 10. I’m not saying all Kashi cereals score that low– their 7 Whole Grain Cereal Puffs actually score a 91– but you may think you’re doing a really healthy thing by eating “organic” cereal, but you could actually be eating one in the Cap’n Crunch range. Melissa talks more about this in her “Adult Rated Cereal” post.

Questions of the Day

What do you think of nutrition rating systems like NuVal? Would it take some of the confusion out of food shopping? What was the most surprising NuVal score to you?

80 Comments

  1. Oh man, I could have so much fun with this site. I am always interested to see how healthful my meal choices are according to perspective other than my own–I like to think that I make nutritious choices, but it would be interesting to see how others rate my diet.

  2. I havent had a chance to check out most of the scoring yet, but from the looks of it i think this is really kinda cool. Gives you sort of an idea of what your eating and how well it ranks in the nutrients…i’d def give this a try!

  3. Wow, I am happy that good ol Shredded Wheat is so darn good for you…I’ll be bringing that(the unfrosted kind of course!)back to my life-yum!

    Not really surprised Puffins and Kashi were low scoring-lots of sugar etc.Also I find we tend to get roped in thinking if it is from the organic(pricey!)section that it must be superior healthwise.This is a good WAKE UP CALL for breakfast cereals.Thanks for the post!!

  4. The NuVal system is very interesting! I question, though, how they can establish a system that rates what is “healthy” for everyone. As peoples’ requirements vary, I do not think there is a one-size-fits-all rating that will work. However, any system to make choosing healthy food easier is a good one! Since I’m in Boston, I’m going to do some more research.

  5. Looking through the cereal ratings, it seems that fiber content is weighted very heavily, followed by vitamin/mineral content, followed by sugar (inversely). I would guess the formula is something like: grams fiber * X + number nutrients >Y% daily intake * Z – grams sugar * Z’ (this is just pulled out of my hat, of course). Or, it may be based on percent mass by each component…in any case I’m not surprised the puffins fare poorly because they don’t have much fiber and aren’t pumped full of supplements like General Mills Cinnamon Toast Crunch is.

  6. Yes, very interesting to see how high some cereals are rated over others. It just shows that inspecting the labels, no matter how “natural” or “organic” a product is, is still important!

  7. I’ve never heard of anything like this before, so it took me a few minutes to consider my true opinion. My initial reaction is to fault anything that resembles a new way to “diet”, so at first I started thinking negatively about NuVal. However, the more I looked at their website, the more I realized how helpful the scores can be for someone who is just learning about how to find a healthy balance with food.

    Many people are not comfortable with food labels, and tend to focus on only one or two aspects of the entire label. This seems like a good way to decipher the label in a very plain and simple way, and to determine if a food is really as good as it seems.

  8. I think this system is a great start for people who are just learning or becoming interested in a healthier lifestyle but I would not personally use NuVal. Yes, organic does not equal healthy, but at least you know you are not eating high fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated oils (=trans fat), etc. Any system that ranks General Mills Cinnamon Toast Crunch with 75% reduced sugar as one of the best cereal to eat does not earn my trust.

  9. Very interesting! I guess it’s a little too much math for me. I already know that bananas and greek yogurt is good for me. It could be a better tool for people that are a little more clueless 😉

  10. Thanks for sharing this info; interesting concept and I’ll check it out further. It seems like an interesting way to compare the few foods we buy “in the middle” of the market. I live in OK and haven’t seen/heard of anything like this yet.

  11. I’ve tried out a variety of online calorie counters and there was one that would give you a grade for your choices (like A- or B+, etc). I found it interesting and it did make me think. Can’t remember for sure which one it was though – maybe caloriescount.com?

  12. Wow that’s actually a really interesting thing. And I completely agree with your part about “healthy” looking cereals. Many people think that because it’s ‘organic’, or ‘made with whole grains’ or part of a ‘healthy brand’ (like Kashi), that it’s automatically good for you. But then look at the amount of sugar! Kashi go lean crunch as more sugar than some of those “dessert cereals”! And while puffins are delicious, they barely have any fiber.

    While it’s interesting, I took a look at the list and there are still a little iffy part to it. Cinnamon toast crunch reduced sugar earned pretty high. Because it has less sugar? I’m sure there are some no-so-pretty ingredients in that box. It’s hard to give foods a certain number score because there are so many factors to look at – not just the sugar, protein, fiber etc. But also the type of ingredients that go into making it!

  13. This is so interesting! I would love for this to be in my local stores. I think that it would help people make more informed decisions. I would think Puffins would score higher. I wonder if the different flavors would score differently.

  14. It’s not surprising that a lot of packaged foods touted as healthy turn out not to be so. It depends on your definition of healthy of course. But if you’re looking to eat mostly whole grains, less sugar, salt, additives and preservatives, I find the best information is in the ingredient list. Since ingredients are listed in order of percentage weight (highest first), it’s easy to determine what your product is mostly made out of. If a box of crackers is marketed as “healthy whole grain”, but the first few ingredients read “Enriched Wheat Flour, Vegetable Oil, Sugar…”, then you’re not getting what you think you are.

  15. I think it is an interesting system that will definitely make consumers more aware of the foods that they are eating. I personally believe a lot of labels out there “fool” people so it is good that they are taking that into account (like the cereal — just because it’s Kashi doesn’t mean its the best for you). But like you said, we can’t eat foods that score 100 all the time but having those numbers would show us if we have a potentially dangerous trend growing in our daily diets. Thanks!

  16. Thats a pretty cool system. I think it would be a good idea to start implementing it into grocery stores as well as with health related fields. My father for example thinks he knows how to eat healthy but will go to the store and buy the totally wrong foods. He does not understand reading the ingredients and I feel many people are in such a hurry all the time they see “organic” or ” reduced sugar” or “made with whole grains” and just buy it without realizing it may carry as much sugar as a snickers. Good find!! I am very interesting to read more about the program

  17. This system has it’s pros and cons as some have already pointed out. The thing I’m worried about is once again just labeling a food, and people still not understanding what they are eating. They still won’t get that it’s portion size, calories in and calories out, and now they won’t be reading the nutrition label and understanding what they are putting into their bodies and at least gaining a bit of nutrition knowledge in the process if they are just looking at a number. Plus, people with all or nothing mindsets might go into the mode of thinking “oh my gosh, i can only eat foods that are 80 or above” or some crazy rule. I’m not sure if I actually like this idea. I wish we could put whatever financing this system is taking and market education on the good old exchange system which is already all over packaging and although takes some educating, is very adaptable and easy to understand.

  18. Although this system has some benefits, overall, I don’t think it’s very helpful. As people have already pointed out, it could lead to obsessing and does not seem to take certain things into consideration (i.e.- processed foods v.s. simple/ natural ingredients). I saw many highly rated products that I know contain high fructose corn syrup and/ or lots of sugar.

    Furthermore, I think the system could be confusing for people who ARE knowledgeable about nutrition because it may lead them to wonder why something they thought was healthy by their personal criteria is not highly rated. I know not everything labeled orgainc is healthy, but foods that are more natural and have recognizable ingredients are better than those that don’t. The system will only make it easier for people who don’t read labels and aren’t knowledgeable about nutrition/health to be LESS knowledgeable about their own specific needs. Nutrition needs to be individualized based on ones age, health history, etc., it’s not a one size fits all system.

    Thanks, Tina, for bringing this to people’s attention!

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