The Yuka ratings for food come from three weighted considerations:
- 60% off Nutri-Score
- 30% from additives
- 10% based on whether the product is organic
Nutri-Score is used in many European countries, including Yuka’s home country of France. It is a simple five-color label that categorizes foods from A to E. Properties such as high energy density, sugar content, saturated fatty acids and salt negatively affect the Nutri-Score, while fiber; protein content; and the presence of fruit, vegetables or rapeseed, walnut or olive oil positively affects the result. The lower the score, the better.
Food labeling differs from country to country. The Nutri-Score comes from the nutrient profiling system developed by the British Food Standards Agency, but – confusingly – the UK uses a traffic light system instead with color-coded ratings for energy, fat, saturated fat, sugar and salt. The US depends on FDA Nutrition Facts labelwhich breaks things down as a percentage of your recommended unemployment benefit.
Some of what Yuka covers is included in current labels in Europe, but the app also takes into account potentially harmful additives. For example, Diet Coke is green with the Traffic Light system, but it appears orange in Yuka, which gives it 41/100 due to various additives (specifically E950, E951, E150d and E338). Press E950 (Acesulfame K) in Yuka and you learn that it is an intense sweetener rated negatively because it does not help with weight control and can promote metabolic disorders such as glucose intolerance. Yuka says the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) is currently reassessing the safety of the sweetener. If you want to dig into the research, the app provides links to papers.
A question of trust
Yuka is an independent company that makes money through book and calendar sales, a nutrition program, and premium app subscriptions ($14 a year gets you access to a search bar, an offline mode, unlimited history, and personalized warnings about things like gluten or lactose ) . Importantly, the company doesn’t accept any advertising money, “We just say no,” Francois told me, and none of its results or recommendations are influenced by brands. Where it recommends alternatives to products with poor ratings, these suggestions are based on matching categories, higher ratings and local availability.
Yuka started with food, but requests from users prompted it to add cosmetics ratings. The cosmetics assessment assesses potential effects on health and the environment, so it considers whether products are endocrine-disrupting, carcinogenic, allergenic, irritating or polluting. While cosmetic ratings are based on scientific research, they lack an independent framework like Nutri-Score to inform them.
I was alarmed to find that the hand wash I regularly buy received a 0/100 score from Yuka due to the presence of benzophenone-1, an endocrine disruptor “that easily crosses the skin barrier and then acts as female hormones.” When I started reading about this and many other potentially dangerous chemicals that Yuka flagged in almost all of our family cosmetics, I felt increasingly anxious.