Nutritional rating systems are methods of ranking or rating food products or food categories to communicate the nutritional value of food in a simplified manner to a target audience. Rating systems are developed by governments, nonprofit organizations, or private institutions and companies.
The methods may use point systems to rank or rate foods for general nutritional value or they may rate specific food attributes such as cholesterol content. Graphics or other symbols may be used to communicate the ratings to the target audience.
Nutritional rating systems differ from nutritional labeling in that they attempt to simplify food choices, rather than listing specific amounts of nutrients or ingredients. Dietary guidelines are similar to nutritional rating systems in that they attempt to simplify the communication of nutritional information, however, they do not rate individual food products.
Glycemic index is a ranking of how quickly food is metabolized into glucose when digested. It compares available carbohydrates gram for gram in individual foods, providing a numerical, evidence-based index of postprandial (post-meal) glycemia. The concept was invented by Dr. David J. Jenkins and colleagues in 1981 at the University of Toronto.
Guiding Stars is patented food rating system that rates food based on nutrient density using a scientific algorithm. Foods are credited for vitamins, minerals, dietary fibre, whole grains, and Omega-3 fatty acids, and debited for saturated fats, trans fats, added sodium (salt) and added sugar. Rated foods are marked with tags indicating one, two or three stars. The program first launched a Hannaford Supermarkets in 2006, and is currently found in about 1,900 supermarkets in the US and Canada. Guiding Stars has also expanded into public schools, colleges and hospitals.
The evidence-based proprietary algorithm is based on the dietary guidelines and recommendations of regulatory and health organizations including the US Food and Drug Administration, the US Department of Agriculture, and the World Health Organization. It was developed by a scientific advisory panel composed of experts in nutrition and health from Dartmouth College, Harvard University, Tufts University, University of North Carolina and other colleges.
Nutripoints is a system for rating foods on a numerical scale for their overall nutritional value. The method is based on an analysis of 26 positive (such as vitamins, minerals, protein, fiber) and negative factors (such as cholesterol, saturated fat, sugar, sodium) compared to the calories in the food. The overall Nutripoint score of the food is the result. The higher the value, the more nutrition per calorie (nutrient density) and the least negative factors in the food. Thus, the higher the Nutripoint score, the better the food for overall health. The system rates 3600+ foods including basic foods like apples and oranges, fast-foods, and brand-name foods.
Nutripoints was developed by Dr. Roy E. Vartabedian (a Doctor of Public Health) in the 1980s and was released to the general public in 1990 with his book, “Nutripoints,” published in 13 countries and 10 languages worldwide. The food rating system is part of an overall program designed to help people measure, balance, and upgrade their diet’s nutritional quality for overall health improvement and well-being.
The Nutrition iQ program is a joint venture of the Joslin Clinic and multi-banner supermarket operator Supervalu. The labeling system consists of color-coded tags denoting a food product’s superior status with respect to attributes such as vitamin and mineral content, fiber content, 100% juice content, Omega-3 or low saturated fat content, whole grain content, calcium content, protein content, low or reduced sodium content and low or reduced caloric content. The first phase of the program launched in 2009 covering center store food products, with coverage of fresh food departments rolling out in 2011.
Weight Watchers developed the POINTS Food System for use with their Flex Plan. Healthy weight control is the primary objective of the system. The system is designed to allow customers to eat any food while tracking the number of points for each food consumed. Members try to keep to their POINTS Target, a number of points for a given time frame. The daily POINTS Target is personalized based on members’ height, weight and other factors, such as gender. A weekly allowance for points is also established to provide for special occasions, mistakes, etc.
Developed by Adam Drewnowski, University of Washington, NNR “is based on mean percentage daily values (DVs) for 14 nutrients in 2000 kcal food, can be used to assign nutrient density values to foods within and across food groups. Use of the NNR score allows consumers to identify and select nutrient-dense foods while permitting some flexibility where the discretionary calories are concerned.”
Developed by ReViVer, a nutritionally-oriented restaurant in New York City, the ReViVer Score expresses the nutrient density of menu items from a variety of fast food and casual restaurants, based on the amount of 10 nutrients (Vitamins A, C, and E, folate, calcium, magnesium, potassium, iron, fiber, and omega-3 fats) per calorie. A score of 100 indicates that the meal provides at least 100% of the recommended daily intake for all ten nutrients, proportionate to the energy (calorie) content of the meal. The score allows consumers to compare the nutritional quality of various restaurant offerings with similar calorie content.
Developed by Efficiency Is Everything, a Data Science website. This expresses the amount of micronutrients in produce per the caloric value based on 40+ vitamins and minerals. Based off a sum of each nutrient vs that nutrients maximum value per calorie, Spinach, Parsely, Romaine Lettuce, and turnip greens top the list. This allows consumers to compare the nutritional quality of various produce.
Launched late in 2009, the Smart Choices Program (SCP) was a rating system developed by a coalition of companies from the food industry. The criteria for rating food products used 18 different attributes, however, the system had varying levels of acceptability based on 16 types of food which allowed for wide discretion in the selection of foods to include in the program. The program was discontinued in October 2009 after sharp criticism for including products such as “Froot Loops”, “Lucky Charms” and “Frosted Flakes” as Smart Choices. As a consequence of the backlash from the program, General Mills announced on December 10, 2009 that it would reduce the amount of sugar in many of its cereal brands.
On August 19, 2009, the FDA wrote a letter to SCP manager, saying: “FDA and FSIS would be concerned if any FOP labeling systems used criteria that were not stringent enough to protect consumers against misleading claims; were inconsistent with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans; or had the effect of encouraging consumers to choose highly processed foods and refined grains instead of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.” SCP was suspended in 2009 after the FDA’s announcement that they will be addressing both on front-of- package and on-shelf systems. SCP Chair Mike Hughes said: “It is more appropriate to postpone active operations and channel our information and learnings to the agency to support their initiative.”
Smart Choices Program “was developed by a coalition of scientists and nutrition educators, experts with experience with dietary guidelines, public health organizations, and food manufacturers in response to consumer confusion over multiple front-of-the-package systems based on different criteria. Representatives from different government organizations acted as observers. The process of developing the program was facilitated by the nonprofit Keystone Center, an organization that develops consensus solutions to complex health and social policy changes. The nutrition criteria for receiving the SCP icon are specific for product category by indicating “smarter” products within that category. A calorie indicator noting calories per serving and servings per package accompanies the SCP icon to remind consumers that calories do count, even for smarter food choices. For a product to qualify, it first has to be below the threshold for “nutrients to limit” and then (in most cases) it must be above the threshold for one or more nutrients or food groups to encourage. The criteria are based on the 2005 Dietary Guidelines and other consensus science and are transparent and available on the SCP website.”
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