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What is the NutriScore system and how does it work?

NutriScore is a labeling model that aims in a very simple way to tell us how healthy a food is, and in fact graphically is quite simple has five letters: A – B – C – D – E, and five colors in a gradient from dark green to red, so that the food that has the best grade that appears with the letter A and dark green color and a food nothing recommended will appear punctuated with the letter E and in red color.

A priori this seems a great idea, because in some way, summarizes the labeling information and presents the consumer with this information in the form of a simple through a score from A (healthier) to E (less healthy).

To determine this score, the following values per 100 grams are taken into account:

Total Kilojoules / Fat / Saturated Fat / Sugar / Protein / Salt / Fiber.

And the scores go in this order:

Green (A), very healthy

Light green (B), healthy

Yellow (C), neither good nor bad

Orange (D), unhealthy

Red (E), unhealthy

This information is of course important, however, it does not offer the consumer a real perspective as it does not take into consideration the quality of the ingredients, the number of chemicals, preservatives that the product may contain, genetically modified ingredients, artificial flavors, sweeteners that may be carcinogenic and a long etcetera of factors that this simple Nutriscore scoring method does not take into account.

A clear example that has been widely circulated in social networks is olive oil. It is clearly a healthy food, but with a high caloric intake, does this mean that it should be scored with a low NutriScore, and furthermore this score is per 100 grams, how much oil do we use in a salad? It is not the same 100 grams of crackers or pasta that surely anyone can consume in a meal, than 100 grams of oil that we will not so easily consume in a meal or in the 3 meals together during the day.

Other confusing labeling points

If you look closely, it is easy to see on some labeling the recommended amount of vitamin C, minerals, or protein to be covered during the day, and perhaps, on that same labeling you will see the recommended amount of sugar. But this recommended amount refers to different concepts.

In terms of vitamins and macronutrients, the recommended daily amount is just that: the amount you should ingest to stay healthy. While that same concept with respect to sugar refers to the maximum amount you can take. But if you take less your diet will be much better.

So, you have to be skeptical with that message because it may seem that you have to drink several cans of soda or you have to take more sugary foods to reach the recommended amount of sugar to take during the day and that is not the case.

Another big mistake made by NutriScore with respect to sugar is that it does not distinguish between the amount of added sugar and the amount of sugar in the food itself.

Sugar added when making a lollipop is not the same as the sugar that has been released when squeezing fruit, or the sugar naturally present in dates. And at this point, by not distinguishing, we are putting in the same bag all types of sugar, when in fact they behave in very different ways in our body.

So, we are unfairly penalizing here healthy processed products that could have sugar present in those raw materials of origin and, nevertheless, be totally healthy and recommendable.

Another major problem with the NutriScore system is that of total fat, since this fat in the algorithm subtracts points from the food. All this, without taking into account the type of fat it is. This assessment penalizes saturated fat regardless of whether it is a healthy saturated fat and, unfortunately, we are not putting into the equation trans fats, ie, hydrogenated fats and partially hydrogenated fats, of which we have great scientific evidence that are harmful to health. That is to say, it is unjustifiable that we take into account the saturated fat so that it penalizes, when there are healthy ones, and on the other hand the trans fats of the ultra-processed foods in which they are always harmful are not being taken into account.

Additives, artificial and/or genetically modified ingredients, many of which are carcinogenic, such as E-230 or E-232 present in many industrial fruit juices and related to bladder cancer, are not taken into account either. You should keep in mind that if the food industry did not use preservatives or stabilizers, food would hardly last more than 48 or 72 hours in optimal conditions; but there are natural preservatives (such as vinegar or certain spices) that are not harmful to health, and that are the option we choose in RealVegy.

When scoring foods with NutriScore what is scored “positively” is what the food does not have; it scores green for no salt, no fat, no sugar… so a food that has nothing, such as water, would score very well on NutriScore.

So, what happens with foods that have a lot of water in their composition? Well, the vast majority of them score very well on NutriScore, such as sweetened, low-calorie soft drinks. These beverages have no calories, no sugar and no salt, so they score high on the NutriScore.

But this bias does not only affect soft drinks. There are processed meat products on the market that, being low in fat and salt, also score well on the NutriScore even though they are not healthy, while healthy processed foods, such as salmorejo, are harmed by the NutriScore system because they contain large amounts of olive oil.

What do we recommend from RealVegy?

First of all, don’t forget that the NutriScore system is extra information, but not the only one you can count on when choosing your shopping cart. That is, we will still have the list of ingredients and nutritional information on the packaging.

At Real Vegy we always recommend you to read the labels, to know what ingredients are in the product you are buying, if they are not natural, chemical, etc.

Nutriscore is fine of course as a general information tool, but at the end of the day the responsibility for our food as well as the responsibility for our health is not Nutiscore’s, it is not the government’s, it is not your doctor’s, it is not your parents’, it is not your children’s, it is YOURS.

This implies that you have to be informed, that you have to know what you eat and in the end make the decision that best suits you.

And above all, don’t let yourself be confused, do your job and read the labeling, the nutritional content and the list of ingredients.

Here are some examples for you to judge for yourself:

– Diet Coke (Information extracted from Coca-Cola Light https://www.cocacolalatinamerica.com

Ingredients: Carbonated water, Caramel Color, Flavorings, Sweeteners: Aspartame (0.024%) – Acesulfame K (0.016%), Acidulants: Citric acid – Phosphoric acid, Preservative: Sodium benzoate. CONTAINS CAFFEINE. PHENYLKETONURICS: CONTAINS PHENYLALANINE.

Nutriscore B

– Traditional Gazpacho – we have selected a popular brand in the market (Hacendado).

Ingredients: Tomato, bell bell pepper, cucumber, onion, extra virgin olive oil (2.2%), Reserva sherry vinegar, salt and garlic.

Nutriscore B

According to this example, it would be just as healthy to drink a Diet Coke or a glass of gazpacho.

What do you think?

What can we use NutriScore for?

We think it is a very good tool for comparison

You should not forget that there are a number of foods that will not use NutriScore because they are exempt from its use and that, if we compare products, can lead to confusion.

At the moment the foods exempted from NutriScore are:

– Fresh produce: meat, fish, fruits, vegetables and legumes.

– Unprocessed products that have only one ingredient in their composition: vinegar, honey.

– Coffee, tea, herbal and fruit infusions.

– Foods supplied directly by the manufacturer or retail stores in small quantities (such as ready-to-eat meals).

– Foods sold in packages of less than 25 cm┬▓: chocolates, sweets, cereal bars.

– Alcoholic beverages.

At RealVegy we make all our products with a healthy balance of all nutrients: proteins, fibers, fats, salt, etc. That’s why all our fresh products have NutriScore A, but they are also free of chemicals and unhealthy components.

And we always encourage you to do your research and educate yourself before choosing which products end up in your shopping cart.

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