When your grocery store becomes your dietitian…

Let’s face it — making healthy choices often can be quite difficult.  One of the places where it’s often the hardest to pick the right things is the supermarket.  For me, it’s like being a kid in a candy store — so many choices!  so little time!  Unless I have a plan of attack, I often get sidetracked down an aisle, staring blankly at different nutritional data on cereal boxes and not sure which is the healthier choice.  Frankly, it’s just plain overwhelming — even for a nutrition student!

Now, imagine a world where you walk down grocery aisles, and each brand has a different numerical value based on how healthy a food is (on a scale of 1 = as healthy as eating lard straight-up to 100= a saintly choice).  It would totally take the guesswork out of grocery shopping!  Well, according to this article (sent to me by D’s dad, M) in the wall street journal, entitled  “The New Nutritionist: Your Grocer”, this numerical rating system may be coming to a grocery store near you.  According to the article, this rating system is part of a larger movement by grocery stores to offer their clientele sounder nutritional advice.  Here’s a little tidbit from the article describing the system:

Kroger’s scoring system is part of a nationwide move by grocery retailers to get pushier about offering nutritional advice. Other chains, such as Hy-Vee Inc. in the Midwest, are hiring dietitians to advise shoppers on how to select healthier food and, in some stores, walk the aisles offering personalized recommendations for a fee. Some grocers, like Safeway Inc., are mining data gleaned from loyalty cards on their customers’ purchasing habits to recommend healthier alternatives to the foods they buy. Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the country’s biggest food retailer, plans to announce details of its own “nutrition program” later this summer, said a spokeswoman, who declined to elaborate.

Kroger, the second-largest food retailer by revenue after Wal-Mart, recently began testing the NuVal scoring system in some Kentucky stores and is considering using it nationally. The system, developed by health experts from Yale University and other institutions, uses nutrition data on food labels and other public information to calculate how well a product helps meet federal dietary recommendations. High levels of saturated fat, for example, can pull down the score while calcium can help raise it. Foods are ranked from 1 to 100; the higher the number, the greater the nutritional value.

In theory, this is a really great idea.  But, ultimately the ratings are based on the national food pyramid, which, although it is a great tool, is not the full picture in terms of having a healthy diet, particularly for those that are looking to lose weight (not everyone should be eating a 2,000 calorie a day diet — it really depends on your personal energy needs, weight, gender, etc…).  The rating system works best when comparing similar foods to each other (for example, different brands of cereal) rather than comparing ice cream to deli meat.  Granted, we all have our favorite brands — I for one could not go a day without Fage 0% greek yogurt (seriously…if i were stuck on a dessert island I would request that and a spoon), but it certainly helps to make customers more nutritionally aware.  My only concern is that this information is coming from a grocery store — which is definitely not an unbiased source.  They want you to buy their products, specifically, their more expensive products.

My take?  Definitely use these new rating systems to make yourself more aware — but take the information with a grain of salt.  The nutrional value of certain foods versus another is much more complex than one brand having more sodium than another — the best you can do is to educate yourself on what foods YOU like the most, which foods fuel you in the healthiest way possible, and which foods soothe your soul and make you feel super.

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