With three magic numbers, NuVal is hoping to revolutionize the way you shop for food.

'Whole grain.' 'Heart-Healthy.' 'No Added Sugar.' With so many ambiguous health claims on virtually every product that crowds supermarket shelves, how can we wade through the confusing jumble and make choices that are actually healthy? Unless you take a dietitian along, it's no easy feat – but NuVal's nutritional rating system may change that.

In theory, it's simple: foods on store shelves are rated from 1 to 100, with healthier items earning higher numbers. The score is prominently displayed on the price tag, so consumers can pick out foods with higher nutritional content with just a glance. Even in the rush of modern life, having no time to scrutinize the ingredient lists on everything from loaves of bread to cartons of ice cream is no longer an excuse to exit the store with a cart full of junk.

Of the easy-to-use scores, one anonymous NuVal user says on the company's website, “Love the idea of what you have created here. This makes grocery shopping and smart decisions easier for the average person who is not educated in nutrition.”

But how does NuVal come up with that score? The company says its scoring system was developed by an independent team of nutrition and medical experts at Griffin Hospital in Connecticut over a two-year period. The Overall Nutritional Quality Index, or ONQI, is a complex mathematical algorithm that awards points for protein, vitamins, fiber and other good nutrients and subtracts points for things like trans fats, sodium and sugar. Fresh fruits and vegetables automatically earn 100 points, and scores decrease from there, particularly when it comes to processed foods.

Ingredients on product packaging are scanned to determine a score, or if there is no packaging, as with produce and meat, the scoring system “uses a nutrient database from a respected research arm of a major university which is used by both government agencies and academia and contains all of the nutrients needed for our computations.”

One caveat is that the ONQI doesn't take into account special dietary needs of individual shoppers. If you're specifically seeking low-sugar foods, for example, the overall NuVal score won't tell you whether one brand is better than another – you'll still have to do a little comparison shopping. NuVal also concedes that the score doesn't consider things like bacteria or toxins such as mercury in fish. And of course, the scoring system can't account for personal tastes. But what the score can tell you is how various brands' health claims stack up.

On the NuVal website you can browse the scores of items like cold cereal, milk, frozen foods and loaves of bread. If you're agonizing between 'Pepperidge Farm Whole Grain 100% Whole Wheat Hearty Texture' and 'Arnold Natural Flax and Fiber Bread', wondering which is the healthier choice, the scores – 29 and 48, respectively – may influence your choice.

Some stores are even using NuVal's scoring system to nudge customers into healthier habits with personalized recommendations. The Wall Street Journal reports that Safeway, the third-largest grocery chain, tracks customer purchases through an optional Food Flex program and analyzes them for nutritional content, suggesting healthful alternatives to frequently purchased products and even showing how the nutrients in your purchases stack up to federal guidelines.

The NuVal system is currently being used in select locations of Price Chopper, Meijer, HyVee, United Supermarkets, Super1Foods, Festival Foods, Brookshire's Food & Pharmacy and various other supermarkets, and for those eager to see it in their own local grocery store, website visitors can suggest a new location.

NuVal: Making nutrition easy
With three magic numbers, NuVal is hoping to revolutionize the way you shop for food.