Confused about Nutrition Labeling? It is Getting More Complex

Today, the government, food manufacturers, supermarket chains, health organizations and trade groups are all involved in nutrition profiling systems designed to help you make wise food decisions when you are shopping. Are all these initiatives going to help you, the consumer, along the road to better health? Or, will they simply serve to confuse and confound the well intentioned shopper? Is there consistency between systems, or do they vary widely?

Today’s food shopper is confronted with an increasing number of shelf tags to on-pack symbols highlighting the goodness of many products. In the past, price and taste preferences determined most of our choices. While these are still predominant determinants of our shopping choices, our increasing awareness of the connection between diet and health is driving the creation of these systems.

Last year the American Dietetic Association’s Nutrition and You: Trends 2008 survey found that 67% of consumers said diet and nutrition was “very important.” Yet of those, only 35% said on-package health symbols provided credible nutrition information. Only 9% felt that food manufacturers information was trustworthy!

The following table provides an overview of five current or upcoming nutrient profiling systems in supermarkets. Not all have been rolled out across the country yet. Three of these feature shelf-tag symbols, one is only on-package, and one is a combination of both. If you haven’t seen any of them yet, keep watching, as it will not be long until you do.

Current or Upcoming Nutrient Profiling Systems
  NuVal Guiding Stars Nutrition IQ Smart Choices Healthy Ideas
Stores Price Chopper, HyVee, Giant-Eagle, Meijer’s Hannaford’s Blum, Food Lion, Sweet Bay Acme, Albertson’s, Jewel-Osco, Lucky, Shop’nSave All stores that sell foods manufactured by Coca-Cola, ConAgra Foods, PepsiCo, Kraft Foods, General Mills, Kellogg Company, Unilever, Wal-Mart Giant Foods, Stop & Shop
Foods NOT rated by system All foods receive a score. Coffee, tea, soda, candy, gum, baby foods or medical food. Coffee, tea, soda, candy, gum, ice cream/dessert novelties, or fresh meats, poultry or fish. No food categories are excluded. Manufacturers submit specific products for analysis. Coffee, tea, soda, andy, gum, ice cream, cookies, cakes, pies, condiments or many snack foods.


My personal favorite is the NuVal system. It is not sponsored by either a retailer or manufacturer, but was developed at Yale University. Each food receives a single school between 0 and 100. Every food is scored with the same algorithm which allows for comparison within food categories, and between categories.

Success of any or all these systems will depend on market forces, consumer acceptance, and effectiveness research. Check them and let us know what your opinion is. Will one or more help you to make better choices? Will they help you make informed food decisions?