An organization called NuVal has come up with a simplified system for telling us which foods we should eat. Instead of continuing to strain our brains by counting grams of fat, carbohydrates, sugar, fiber, and protein, we can now just read the NuVal score, which ranges from 1 to 100. Check it out:
After watching the video, I couldn’t quite figure how the NuVal people assign scores to foods, so I went to their web site for the answer.
The NuVal(tm) Nutritional Scoring System is powered by the Overall Nutritional Quality Index (ONQI(tm)), a patent-pending algorithm for measuring the nutritional quality of foods and beverages based on the influence they have on overall dietary goals.
That’s a great start. I’ve always believed choosing quality foods requires at least one algorithm and a patent or two. As you probably know, archeologists have found several algorithms etched into the walls alongside Paleolithic cave paintings. There’s even a theory that Neanderthals died out because their primitive tools were incapable of producing the symbol for division.
Developed by a team of leading nutrition, public health, and medical experts, the ONQI algorithm uses the Institute of Medicine’s Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs – quantitative reference values for recommended intakes of nutrients) and the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (advice from the Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Department of Agriculture about how good dietary habits can promote health and reduce risk for major chronic diseases) to quantify the presence of more than 30 nutrients – including vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants; sugar, salt, trans fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol.
So they’re using the USDA’s dietary guidelines to create the algorithm. That would explain some of the foods that receive a high NuVal score:
Oranges – 100
Pineapples – 99
Post Shredded Wheat ‘N Bran – 91
Bananas – 91
Organic Valley 1% Milk – 81
Ryvita Rye & Oat Bran Crispbread – 87
Silk Soymilk Light – 82
Silk Soy Milk Chocolate – 68
… as well as some foods that received low scores:
Chicken Breast (boneless) – 39
Pork Tenderloin – 35
Turkey Breast – 31
Ground Sirloin (Beef 90/10) – 30
Ham – 27
Coconuts (husked) – 24
But I figured there must be more to a patent-pending algorithm than USDA recommendations, so I called the NuVal people and asked for an interview. One of them agreed to speak to me on the condition that I wouldn’t reveal his name.
Fat Head: Back in the 1990s, the FDA mandated a standardized food label that promotes a high-carb, low-fat diet, and since then we’ve gotten fatter. Why did you decide American consumers need a simplified version of the same advice?
NuVal: The FDA and USDA did a pretty good job of helping millions of people to become obese and diabetic, and we applaud their efforts. But if you look at the statistics from recent years, rates of obesity and Type 2 diabetes are starting to level off somewhat. We concluded that the government’s plan to fatten up the population has run into an unforeseen barrier.
Fat Head: And what’s that?
NuVal: Mathematical illiteracy. As often happens with the federal government, one branch didn’t know what the other was up to. So while the FDA and USDA were working to make people fatter by offering detailed nutrition advice, the Department of Education was busy making sure millions of Americans can’t do math.
Fat Head: I’m not sure I see how that –
NuVal: Let me give you an example. We’ve been telling people to get at least 60 percent of their calories from carbohydrates, because we know that will produce runaway blood sugar for a whole lot of them, right?
Fat Head: Right.
NuVal: Okay, so you’re looking at a food label, and it says 60 carbohydrates, 30 grams of fat, and 10 grams of protein. I bet you think that means 60 percent of the calories come from carbohydrates.
Fat Head: No, because fat has more than twice as many calories per gram than carbohydrates. So it’s more like 43 percent carbohydrates.
NuVal: How did you … ? Never mind. The point is, a lot of people aren’t eating enough carbohydrates to jack up their blood sugar because they’re lousy at math. Plus that whole “gram” thing doesn’t make sense to anyone except the drug addicts, and they eat plenty of carbohydrates already. We needed something simple.
Fat Head: I see. So that’s why it’s called “A Food System for Dummies” on your web site.
NuVal: Exactly. Now people can just choose foods that rank high on the NuVal scale and keep their blood sugar jacked up all the time, without all that math.
Fat Head: But I noticed you also give sugary foods a low score and green vegetables a high score. That would seem to undermine your goal of turning more people into diabetics.
NuVal: True, but we also discourage people from eating anything with adequate amounts of animal protein or fat, so we know they’ll be hungry and fill up on carbohydrates eventually. Besides, the system has to look credible when it comes to vegetables or no one will use it.
Fat Head: Let’s talk about that scoring system a bit. In your algorithm, you give foods a high score for certain nutrients, but then you divide by what you consider bad nutrients: trans fat, sugar, sodium, saturated fat and cholesterol.
NuVal: It’s complicated, but yes, that’s basically it.
Fat Head: That’s where I’m getting confused. Trans fat and saturated fat have different chemical structures and different effects in the body. Trans fats lower HDL, while saturated fat raises it. Trans fats weaken cells, while saturated fats make them stronger. Recent studies show zero association between saturated fat and heart disease. So how did saturated fat become what you call a denominator?
NuVal: We consider them biochemically equivalent because our algorithm showed that if you take all the letters that are common to both trans fat and saturated fat, you can create a long list of the same words.
Fat Head: But that doesn’t seem like a good way to–
NuVal: Fat Rats, Fast Rat, Fat Arts, Fat Star, Star Aft, and my favorite, Sat Fart.
Fat Head: I see. So biochemically, you’d consider Tom Naughton the equivalent of a Math Nut Goon.
NuVal: Yes. Or a Homo Gnat Nut.
Fat Head: I also don’t see why cholesterol and sodium are denominators. Your site says the inputs for the algorithm are based on broad scientific research. Can you actually point to any research that proves cholesterol and sodium are bad for us?
NuVal: We conducted an exhaustive review of the literature and found that in nearly every case, the federal government said cholesterol and sodium are bad.
Fat Head: Your algorithm is also supposed to take the glycemic index into account, according to your web site. I was pleased to see white bread receive a low score, for example. And yet Silk Chocolate Soy Milk received a score of 68, despite containing nearly as much sugar per cup as Coca-Cola. What’s that about?
Fat Head: Excuse me?!
NuVal: We love boobs. The isoflavones in soy are chemically similar to estrogen, so if we can get kids drinking a lot more soy milk, we won’t have to wait until they’re teenagers to see some boobs.
Fat Head: But …you realize that can happen to the boys too, right?
NuVal: I consider myself very open-minded.
Fat Head: Well, as someone who developed boobs as a boy, I don’t think that’s healthy, physically or mentally, unless you enjoy having other boys call you names.
NuVal: Like “Homo Gnat Nut”?
Fat Head: No, but you’re in the ballpark. The point is, why the heck would you give anything made out of soy a high score? How is soy milk a healthier option than a slice of ham or a chicken breast?
NuVal: Don’t say breast. It makes me think of b-
Fat Head: Thank you for your time.
So there you have it: A simple system to help people choose a low-fat, high-carb diet based on processed grains and soy, while limiting perfectly natural proteins and fats. Obesity, diabetes, autoimmune diseases, and premature puberty made easy.
The only bright spot is that NuVal is a commercial enterprise, so if they fail, they’ll probably go away. If they were a government health agency, failure would be an excuse to double their budget.