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Reading Food Labels Gets Easier

Food health rating programs aim to help grocery buyers make better choices.
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Supermarket Health Rating Systems

One of the nutrition rating programs is the NuVal system, formerly called the Overall Nutritional Quality Index (ONQI), developed by David Katz, MD, chair of the Yale Griffin Prevention Research Center along with a group of nutrition and health scientists. The NuVal rates food on a scale from 1-100, with 100 being the healthiest.

NuVal is expected to appear on shelf markers in 2009 in many of the 13,000 Topco supermarkets (Wegmans, IGA, Hy-Vee, and Food City). Scores are also slated to show up on Topco brands and to be available online. Consumers will be able to search for their favorite foods and brands online to see how they scored.

"The online option allows us to provide consumers with deeper levels of functionality, additional information and explanation on food scoring, diet recommendations, and how to use the scoring system for diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and obesity," says Katz. 

Another new front-of-pack nutrition labeling program is Smart Choices, sponsored by the Keystone Organization, which represents a wide array of industry, scientists, academicians, and health and research organizations.  Like the other programs, to qualify as a smart choice, foods must meet specific nutrition criteria.  A symbol will reflect foods that qualify as healthy choices and will debut in grocery stores in mid-2009. 

In 2006, the New England chain Hannaford Brothers became the first grocer to launch a food scoring program. Their proprietary program, called "Guiding Stars," was developed by a group of nutrition scientists. Hannaford plans to license the nutrition navigation system to supermarket chains, vendors, health care groups and anyone else interested in helping people make nutritious food choices.

"At Hannaford, we evaluate each food and beverage based on the information from the nutrition facts panel and list of ingredients within a 100-calorie serving," says Caren Epstein, communications director for Hannaford. 

Hannaford presents the results on a scale of 0-3 stars, with 3 being the healthiest. Hannaford has scored more than 25,500 foods and beverages.

"Our customers love the program and it has helped them make better food choices within certain categories and teach their children about good nutrition," says Epstein.

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