Preventive Medicine Column
Dr. David L. Katz
The National Consumers League, claiming to represent consumers’ interests, issued a press release this week announcing they had submitted a complaint to the FDA, asking the agency to banish NuVal from the nation’s supermarkets- including, presumably, the two chains that now offer it here in CT: Price Chopper, and Big Y. The group claims that NuVal cannot be credible because it generates some “mind-boggling” scores. They go on to say “NuVal’s so-called nutritional ratings are a travesty.”
I want to thank this group- whomever they actually represent (the Center for Science in the Public Interest has noted their long list of huge corporate sponsors and questioned whether they represent consumers at all). Because they are very ably demonstrating exactly how NuVal does just what it was intended to do: tell the surprising truth about the nutritional quality of foods. If the truth weren’t surprising, everyone would know it already- and there would be no need for NuVal. But the truth is very surprising indeed- and I thank the NCL for going out of their way to call attention to that.
The press release and FDA letter called attention to some very low scores for canned fruit, for instance, and in at least one instance, canned beans.
It does, indeed, boggle the mind that so-called canned peaches in ‘light syrup’ report 19 grams of sugar on the nutrition facts panel for an 80-calorie serving! That’s 76 of 80 calories from sugar, most of which is added. So, the package tells you these are peaches in sugar; really, it’s sugar in a can- with a bit of added peach. And, by the way, these peaches have half the fiber of their fresh counterpart- where did the rest go, if not lost to processing? And, they declare 20mg of sodium- when there is none in fresh peaches. So apparently, these severely sugared peaches are also lightly salted. You probably didn’t know that- but NuVal did.
Diced pears in light syrup? They declare 15 grams of sugar for a 70-calorie serving, so that’s a bit better! Only 60 out of 70 calories are coming from sugar, most of it added. Still, this is sugar with added pears, really.
Mandarin oranges in light syrup report 20 grams of sugar, for a 90-calorie serving. That’s 80 calories out of 90 from sugar, most of it added.
Fresh green beans score 100; so do frozen green beans; and green beans canned in water. The green beans in question were canned in salt water- and the nutrition facts panel declared 270mg of added sodium for a 25-calorie serving. That’s over 10 mg of sodium for every calorie- and is from 9 to 16 times more concentrated in sodium than the diet should be overall! These beans are being very thoroughly pickled in brine, in other words. You might not have noticed that, but NuVal did.
You know the expression “the devil is in the details.” We use that expression in our culture because it’s true. You can use the word “peach” to refer to a fruit, a frozen fruit, a canned fruit in juice, a canned fruit in syrup, a juice, a jam, or a candy. But it’s the details – the detailed nutrition facts- that determine the actual nutritional quality. Fresh peaches score 99. So do frozen peaches. Stripped down peaches floating in a sea of sugar water? Not so much.
Oranges score 100. Mandarin orange slices in sugar water?- not so much. Pears score a 96. Diced pears in sugar water- not so much.
Every low NuVal score highlighted by the NCL is correct. The reasons for it are available in the nutrition facts. But the problem is- and I thank the NCL for pointing it out- most shoppers don’t get past the cover. If a product SAYS it’s fruit, most consumers- and apparently, the NCL, if their motives are honest- simply believe it.
But NuVal doesn’t ‘believe’ anything. It uses a robust, vigorously tested, widely vetted, and independent algorithm to determine the truth. An algorithm that correlates with health outcomes- including all-cause mortality. An algorithm shielded in perpetuity from industry or political influence. An algorithm that does what the NCL claims to care about: protect consumers. That’s why it was built, and the only reason.
It’s the folks who brought you “Smart Choices” and “betcha’ can’t eat just one” who have cause to contend that NuVal is mind boggling. But the simple fact is, when you have been fed a steady diet of marketing propaganda, the objective truth is so unfamiliar as to boggle the mind!
It’s not the scores that are the travesty; it’s some of the products being scored.
Is NuVal offering mind-boggling nutrition guidance? You betcha’! My thanks to the NCL for making note of it.
Dr. David L. Katz; www.davidkatzmd.com