Our On the Way to Wellness Groups had a great time investigating nutrition at a local grocery store. And, many had an eye-opening education.
We focused on the NuVal nutrition rating system used at Meijer and it was quite interesting that no one had even noticed these labels before. Look for the NuVal symbol right next to the price on the shelf tag at many grocery store chains across the country, including Hy-Vee, Big Y, Raley's, Giant, and some Krogers.
NuVal provides a simple rating of each food's nutritional content. Scores run from 1 to 100; the higher the number, the better it's nutrition. Over 30 nutrients and nutrient factors are considered in the equation, giving credits for good sources of protein, fiber, vitamins, minerals such as calcium, while taking deductions for sugar, sodium and cholesterol.
One challenge was to find foods at both ends of the nutritional spectrum. Krusteaz Crumb cake was a quick find, failing the nutrient test with a grade of 1. High sugar and refined white flour without enrichment left it offering the worst possible grade.
Foods that provided top scores of 100 were plentiful in the produce department, but rarer in the processed food aisles. One eagle-eyed person found canned no-salt added listed at 100. It's worth remembering that as long as no salt or sugar is added to canned or frozen vegetables and fruits, their nutritional score remained the same. When your favorite produce is out of season, you can always find alternatives that are just as healthy in the canned or frozen food aisles.
Those who used more pre-packaged dishes were shocked to see how low these processed foods scored. One way to improve the nutritional value of any of these is to add extra vegetables or plain whole grains to reduce the sodium per serving, and to increase the fiber, vitamins and minerals. For example, adding a cup of instant brown rice or barley to a box of Rice-a-Roni, or Zatarain's Red Beans and Rice would do the trick nicely.
To find the best nutrition bang for your buck
- Find NuVal score: the higher the better
- Ingredient list
- First 3 ingredients are most important
- Sugar should be further down the list
- Avoid partially hydrogenated fats
- Fewer ingredients
- Nutrition Data Label
- Sodium: 200 mg per serving or less is ideal
- Trans fats: 0