April 22th, 2020
In a recent study by Charlotte Van Tongeren, the applicability of Nutri-score has been investigated in the context of the recent call of the Dutch nutrition science community to reconsider the Nutri-score criteria. In the study, 3000 products from the Dutch market in the product groups cheese, ready meals, soups and meal sauces have been assessed by the Nutri-score criteria.
An even distribution of Nutri-scores A to E could be expected in each product group, to help consumers to differentiate in each product group in terms of healthiness. This was not the case.
In the Cheese group, almost no product scored A and B, the vast majority scored D.
Almost two-thirds of the Ready Meals scored A or B and almost no E-score took place, suggesting that this group consists in the majority of healthy products. This does not correlate with publications about the nutrition quality of ready meals. The average sodium level of Ready Meals with Nutri-score A and B is almost 50% of the Dutch recommendations for a daily diet, which makes it almost impossible to adhere to the recommendations. In addition, Nutri-score does not include portion size for this group.
No D or E scores could be found in the Soups group, only A-C scores with C covering more than half of the products in this group. The group of Meal Sauces showed an overrepresentation in the C score (58%), while no E-scores were present.
The uneven distributions in the four food groups are attributed by the authors to the use of overall criteria in Nutri-score, in contrast with product group specific criteria.
While a strong negative correlation can be expected between the Nutri-scores in a product group and the nutrients to limit, this correlation appeared to be weak or non-existent in most product groups in this study.
The authors conclude that “for the product groups in this study, Nutri-Score is not properly selecting healthier products and its scores are not very consistent with Dutch dietary guidelines.” They advise making use of product group specific criteria that are coherent with national dietary guidelines.