National Consumers League


NCL Food Issues

Calling FDA attention to wacky grocery nutritional labeling system

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Image of tortilla chips on shelves In May, NCL filed a formal complaint with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) about a nutritional scoring system - used in 1,600 stores nationwide - that gives snack chips, soft drinks, and desserts scores as high as or higher than some canned fruits and vegetables.


In the complaint, NCL cites criticism from the Institute of Medicine that the NuVal scoring system uses different universal adjustors that may lead to confusing scores across food categories. This means that while the system may be designed to help you pick the healthiest type of bread, it also generates the following scores, which leave us scratching our heads.

  • Tostitos Light Restaurant Style Tortilla Chips made with Olestra (28)
  • Baked Lays Originals Potato Crisps (25)
  • Ghirardelli Caramel Turtle Chocolate Brownie Mix (22)
  • Raley’s Cut Green beans (22)
  • Chug Milk Shake Vanilla (21)
  • Doritos Tortilla Chips (20)
  • Diet Coke (15)
  • Edwards Singles Hot Fudge Brownie with Creamy Ice Cream (13)
  • Cracker Jack caramel coated popcorn (12)
  • Famous Amos chocolate chip cookies (10)
  • Raley’s Diced Pears in Light Syrup (10)
  • Dole Mandarin Oranges in Light Syrup (7)
  • S&W Yellow Cling Peach Chunks in Light Syrup (7)

Why are we concerned about this system? There are several reasons. First, as mentioned above, it often generates scores that may do more to confuse and mislead consumers than to help them make educated nutritional decisions. Secondly, NuVal scores are based on an algorithm that has not been publicly released, meaning it has not been subject to necessary and intense scrutiny from nutritional professionals.

Finally and most importantly, NCL believes that FDA, not a private company, should be the one giving nutritional advice to consumers. We urge FDA to promulgate a nutritional rating system that would clarify things for consumers and is in line with IOM recommendations.

Until FDA does step forward, what can consumers do to make sense of often conflicting nutritional information? Look to FDA and USDA guidance, use MyPlate as a guide to what you plate should look like, and continue to read nutrition labels.