The Nutriscore System: A Growing Trend in Europe

27 June, 2020
The Nutriscore System is a way of making the nutritional values of foods more visible. Several countries in Europe have recommended this food labeling system, including France, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Spain.

The French public health agency created the NutriScore system for nutritional labels. This system makes it easier for the consumer to understand nutritional labels on foods. It’s based on a classification that’s similar to a traffic light. In other words, good nutritional qualities appear in green, while poor nutritional qualities appear in red.

Authorities in Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Spain have also recommended this system, as well as the European Commission and the World Health Organization.

How does the NutriScore system work?

NutriScore is a food labeling system for the front of packages where it’s clearly visible to consumers. It classifies foods into five different categories – A through E – according to their nutritional value. 

These categories, or scores, are represented by different colors, similar to those on a traffic light. Category A, which is dark green in color, is the highest nutritional score. At the same time, category E, which is red in color, is the lowest score.

The NutriScore food labeling system.

The NutriScore system uses colors to classify foods according to their nutritional properties.

NutriScore assigns a score to foods according to the nutritional quality of each 100 grams or 100ml. Components that are considered “unfavorable” receive points on a scale of one to ten. At the same time, a point system ranging from zero to five applies to beneficial components.

  • The beneficial components include protein, fiber, and vitamins. Foods that are rich in these components will obtain green or yellow scores (A, B, and C). For example, we can find fruits and vegetables on this end of the scale.
  • Unfavorable components include simple sugars, saturated fats, sodium, and total calories. Foods that contain a high percentage of these components will obtain orange or red scores (D and E). The most typical examples are industrial baked goods and salty snacks.

You may also want to read: What’s on a Nutrition Label?

The algorithm of the NutriScore system

These points serve to calculate the final nutritional value of foods, using the following algorithm:

  • First, experts apply the unfavorable points, taking into account total calories, sugar, fat, and sodium.
  • Then they add all of these unfavorable points together.
  • Next, they calculate the favorable points, according to the percentage of fruits and vegetables present as well as the amount of fiber and proteins.
  • Then, they add all of the favorable points together.
  • Finally, they subtract the unfavorable points from the beneficial points.

The following image displays the algorithm that experts use to assigns nutritional scores:

The NutriScore system algorithm.

According to the final number of points, foods are classified in the following way:

  • -15 to -1: Dark green
  • 0-2: Green
  • 3-10: Yellow
  • 11-18: Orange
  • 19–40: Red

The points system for drinks and pure fats and oils are somewhat different in order to better adapt to their nutritional characteristics. However, the system for obtaining the final result is the same.

The advantages of the NutriScore system

  • The NutriScore system makes it easier to detect ultra-processed foods that are rich in sugars and saturated fats.
  • It allows consumers to make more conscious decisions regarding the foods they buy and eat. That’s because the color-code system is easy to understand.
  • The NutriScore of each food should appear on the front of packages. That way, it’s easy to see and impossible to try to hide.

The disadvantages of the NutriScore system

  • The system may create confusion when it comes to the suitability of certain products. For example, extra virgin olive oil, besides being natural and healthy, will obtain a low score because of its fat content.
  • Algorithm scores depend on the composition of foods, without evaluating consumer type, or the needs of each consumer.
  • The system may cause consumers to compare “traffic lights” between different food groups. However, the correct way to compare is only between foods that are in the same food group. For example, we can compare one yogurt with another yogurt, or one cereal with another cereal. However, we can’t compare the score on a container of yogurt with the score on a box of cereal.
  • The NutriScore system only applies to packaged products. Therefore, a donut from a bakery won’t have a score, but that doesn’t mean it’s any healthier than a packaged donut from the supermarket! At the same time, fruits and vegetables also lack these labels, but that doesn’t make them any less healthy.

Keep learning: The Healthiest Alternatives for Unhealthy Foods

Conclusions

A couple shopping at the super market.
The objective of NutriScore is to encourage consumers to choose healthier products, thus promoting a healthier lifestyle.

Despite its limitations, several studies have shown that the NutriScore system is a useful tool for nutritional awareness. Even people who don’t know a lot about nutrition and health choose products with greater nutritional value when they use the NutriScore as their guide.

The fact that the NutriScore system helps people make better nutritional decisions will help to improve the eating habits and health of consumers in general.

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