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Food Scoring for Better Nutrition

by Rita Carey, M.S., R.D., C.D.E.

You may also be wondering whether you should avoid eating any food that has score below a certain number. Food scoring is not meant to label foods as “good” or “bad,” so there are no recommendations to completely avoid foods below a certain number. Scores are meant to guide shoppers toward the most nutritious foods — those that should form the base of a healthy diet. People do not need to eliminate foods that receive low scores from their diets; these foods should just be eaten less frequently and in smaller portions than those that rate more highly. Potato chips, for example, will have a significantly lower rating than carrots, but an occasional serving of potato chips is not likely, in the long run, to have serious health consequences.

Where to find ONQI ratings

ONQI ratings will begin to appear on products in select grocery stores in September. The system is open for use at any grocery store chain, but the first stores scheduled to display ratings are those belonging to the TOPCO cooperative, which include the independent chains Meijer and Marsh. (For a full list of members, look on www.topco.com.) Stores currently showing the ratings include Hy-Vee and Price Chopper. The first ONQI rollout will be in grocery store chains in the Midwest and Northeast, with more stores to sign on across the United States in the following months. However, food ratings will also be listed at www.nuval.com for shoppers without access to a participating supermarket.

The true benefit of ONQI ratings will be determined over time, but Dr. Katz and others involved with ONQI development are very optimistic about its value and potential for future applications. For example, the ONQI formula can be applied to recipes to determine nutrient density and therefore could be useful for both planning menus and revising recipes. For now, however, the optimal outcome of this new food rating experiment is to make it easier to select healthy foods at the market and improve the diet and health of all Americans.

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