How meaningful is the Nutri-Score?

How meaningful is the Nutri-Score?

Finally there is a uniform traffic light system for food: the Nutri-Score. This provides more clarity in the supermarket jungle, because processed foods are marked with a simple color and letter system. This allows you to see at first glance how healthy a food is. Or?

We’ll tell you why foods with a Nutri-Score “A” or “B” (top marks) are not automatically healthy.

What is the Nutri-Score and where can it be found?

The Nutri-Score is a new way of labeling and rating processed foods. The name therefore combines the English terms “nutrition” (nutrition) and “score” (points or evaluation). The concept for this comes from France. Since 2020, the Nutri-Score can also be used by manufacturers in Germany.

The idea behind the Nutri-Score? To give consumers in the supermarket a decision-making aid and to present the complex information in the nutritional table in a simple way. The respective score is clearly visible and in bright colors on the front of the packaging.

Currently, however, the labeling is still voluntary for the manufacturers. If a food manufacturer decides to label a product, all branded products must be scored. This regulation is intended to prevent brands from only labeling that part of their product range that would do well in the rating.

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A nationwide end of 2022 has shown that the Nutri-Score is still used far too rarely. Only 579 of the 1,451 products examined (40 percent) from a wide variety of product groups were provided with the colored nutritional value label.

Which score is the best?

The Nutri-Score comprises a simple, five-point scale, which is both color-coded and alphabetically marked with the letters A to E.

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The Nutri-Score scale A to E

The letter A on a green background is the best possible rating and indicates a high-quality food, while the red letter E at the bottom end of the scale indicates a comparatively “unfavorable” product. The letters B to D stand for the gradations in between. It is important to understand that these are only comparative values.

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Which foods don’t have a Nutri-Score?

First of all, the products for which the manufacturer has decided not to use the Nutri-Score. In addition, there are also special product groups, such as baby food and sports food or meal replacement products, for which the Nutri-Score does not apply.

Coffee beans, tea, herbs and unprocessed products (fruit, vegetables, eggs, meat, fish) also do not require nutritional labeling.

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How is the Nutri-Score calculated?

In order to calculate the Nutri-Score of a food, the respective ingredients are analyzed. So that the result can be presented simply, a distinction is made between good and bad ingredients. All ingredients are provided with points and are included in the calculation either positively or negatively.

  • Positive: Fiber, protein, fruits and vegetables, nuts, canola or olive oil
  • Negative: saturated fat, sugar, salt and too much energy

Various ingredients are weighed against each other. In order to enable comparability, the quantities always refer to 100 grams / milliliters of the respective product.

You can imagine the calculation like a pair of scales, on one side of which you collect the healthy ingredients and on the other side the rather unhealthy ingredients of a food. Like the scale, the score accordingly indicates which side predominates – the healthy or the unhealthy ingredients. Since both sides are counted, a product with a score of A or B can also be camouflaged by a calorie or sugar trap!

It is also important to know that not all Ingredients are taken into account, but only a selection. This is exactly one of the core aspects, which is why the Nutri-Score is often criticized.

Criticism: How meaningful is the Nutri-Score?

Even if the Nutri-Score was developed by scientists with the aim of creating comparability between foods, it is often criticized precisely because of the lack of comparability. You should know these 4 facts before you blindly rely on the letters when shopping.

1. Important ingredients are not considered

One reason for the criticism is the simplified calculation based on the nutritional values ​​and not all of the ingredients in a product. For example, while saturated fatty acids are rated at least negatively, the healthy, polyunsaturated fatty acids (such as omega 3) only play an indirect role in the evaluation, as they do not receive any plus points. The content of secondary plant substances, vitamins and the use of additives is also not taken into account. As a result, in some cases the healthier version of a product performs the same or even worse. This is the case with pasta.

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Example: Wholemeal pasta and durum wheat pasta have the same Nutri-Score. Compared to durum wheat pasta, wholemeal pasta has a higher content of vitamins, nutrients and minerals and ensures a longer-lasting feeling of satiety. These advantages are not taken into account.

2. Only useful when comparing within a product category

It is also important to know that the Nutri-Score is only to be understood as a comparison within a product category. Accordingly, you cannot compare a product rated “A” in one category with an A product from another category.

Examples: The score provides a good comparison if you want to decide between a spinach pizza (A) and a salami pizza (C).

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Many frozen pizzas are now marked with the Nutri-Score

However, the score does not help you to compare different products. A piece of toast, for example, has the Nutri-Score A, but as a food it is significantly unhealthier than the linseed oil marked with D. Since the Nutri-Score looks the same on all products, this can be misleading.

3. Additives are ignored by the Nutri-Score

Another aspect that leads to misleading results is the neglect of substitutes such as sweeteners. This means that the scale can be manipulated, as this indirectly influences manufacturers to replace sugar with artificial sweeteners.

Example: This becomes particularly clear using the example of cola and organic apple juice. The Nutri-Score gives Diet Cola a “B” and organic apple juice a C. The rating is inappropriate because Diet Cola contains artificial sugar substitutes. Organic apple juice, on the other hand, only contains fructose, albeit a lot of it. Read here why you shouldn’t drink too much juice.

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4. The Nutri-Score puts organic products at a disadvantage

All in all, the limited consideration of different ingredients leads to a fundamental disadvantage for organic products. Whether a product contains additives or has been processed less than another does not play a role in the calculation of the score.

For this reason, many manufacturers in the organic food trade have so far decided against using the Nutri-Score. One representative consumer survey However, the Georg-August University of Göttingen has shown that the absence of the Nutri-Score has a negative effect on the purchase decision and thus puts the organic sector at an additional disadvantage.

Conclusion: Nutri-Score – sense or nonsense?

The idea is good, but there are many problems with the implementation of the Nutri-Score. Especially since it is not yet mandatory for manufacturers. But: The Nutri-Score at least provides a good comparability for processed foods one Category. However, organic and whole grain products must be viewed differently. Unfortunately, score and reality often do not match here and it is worth taking a look at the list of ingredients and the nutritional value table.

It is also important to remember that a shopping basket full of Nutri-Score A or B products does not necessarily mean that they are healthy. After all, these are always processed products.

A balanced, wholesome diet with fruit, vegetables, nuts and legumes is much more important. The Nutri-Score helps with individual decisions between two similar products, but is not sufficient for a balanced diet. You can make this easier for yourself with our individual nutrition plans.

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