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POSTED BY THE VEGAN HUSBAND

In our everyone-gets-a-trophy world, it’s refreshing to see things ranked to clearly show winners and losers. Even when it comes to food.

A recent Boston Globe article highlighted a Massachusetts company that is paying its employees to eat healthy, based on a ranking system created by NutriSavings, a local wellness firm. They rank food according to its nutritional value on a scale of 0 to 100. Grocery purchases are tracked and averaged for a four week period. If employees get an average score of 60 or better, they get paid $20 per month.

When I shared this article with a co-worker, her immediate response was, “I’d need to buy my soda (score=3) at another store.” Clever, I thought, but the idea is not to find ways to cheat the system. The idea is to eat healthier.

What if I want to use a point system just to know what to eat? A way to make healthier choices? And, while I love the fact that NutriSavings gives white bread a score of 80 out of a 100, I figured there must be other food rankings out there.

Not surprisingly, there are. And one of them is NuVal.

Funded by a hospital affiliated with Yale University, NuVal was born from a team of medical and nutrition experts who took two years to develop the Overall Nutritional Quality Index, an algorithm for converting nutritional information into a numerical value.

The NuVal website lists a modest sample of brand name items and their scores, which, like those on the NutriSavings scale, go from 0 to 100. I was able to add to that list on a recent trip to the grocery store. The blue NuVal scores are right there for every item in the store. And, although they were developed by experts, some scores leave me scratching my head.

As you might expect, fresh fruits and vegetables rake in big numbers, yet how does the lowly iceberg lettuce (94) outscore the mighty avocado (88)? Coconuts sustained Gilligan for several tv seasons yet pulled a measly 24, barely squeaking past Baked Lays Original Potato Crisps (23). You’d have to eat four coconuts to be in shouting distance of a mango (100).

Many people eat fish as part of a healthy diet. Atlantic salmon takes the top prize with a 96, but the tiny sardine (fresh) nets a solid 94. Trying to decide between lobster or shrimp? NuVal gives lobster the nod by a 60 to 40 margin. Haddock (yawn) beats them both with 74. But why does canned tuna fish in oil score better than its cousin in water (74 to 52)? Shouldn’t it be the other way around?

You may be wondering where white bread falls in the NuVal ranking. It tumbles to 28, just four clicks above Pepperidge Farm Cheddar Flavor Goldfish. NuVal, in general, is not kind to the bread family. Only Arnold Natural Flax and Fiber Bread gets a decent score (64) and the closest I would get to eating it would be to use it to wipe up some spilled Silk Chocolate Light Soymilk (47).

In the end, whether you use a food ranking system or not, you have to make the best choices for you and your family. No one else can do it for you. If I can try to sway you in any direction at all, here goes. Even though Spam clocks in with a score of 20 and Crunchy Cheetos gets a 3, I’m picking Cheetos every time.

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