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Food Nutrition Rankings

How healthy is the food you're eating? Scientists have now ranked it!

Food nutrition compass

It may soon be easier than ever to spot the better choices at the grocery store and on restaurant menus. A scientific team at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University in Boston have conducted some ground-breaking food nutrition research. Over a 3-year period, they built a first-of-its-kind profiling system that tallies the nutritional characteristics of 8,032 foods and drinks consumed by Americans—and rates them based on their overall health impact on the body in relation to major chronic diseases.

Monikered as the “Food Compass,” this tool analyzes foods and beverages around 54 different characteristics across nine domains representing different health-relevant aspects. Important novel features of the system, reported in Nature Food, include equally considering healthful versus harmful factors in foods, such as nutrient levels and degree of processing. It also objectively scores mixed dishes like pizza (not just individual foods).

On a scale of 0 to 100, anything like sweet desserts and beef that score below 30 should be consumed infrequently, items falling in the 31–69 range like poultry and starchy vegetables are to be enjoyed in moderation. Those ranked at 70 or higher such as whole fruits, nonstarchy vegetables, legumes and nuts should be a major part of people’s diets.

It’s telling that across major food categories, the average Food Compass score was only 43.2. Importantly, the tool was designed so that it can evolve based on future nutrition science. Beyond helping consumers decide what is healthier to eat, the developers hope the Food Compass will spur industry and restaurant reformulation and guide nutrition policies such as food labeling and marketing to children.

See also: A New Approach to Food Labeling



Matthew Kadey, MS, RD

Matthew Kadey, MS, RD, is a James Beard Award–winning food journalist, dietitian and author of the cookbook Rocket Fuel: Power-Packed Food for Sport + Adventure (VeloPress 2016). He has written for dozens of magazines, including Runner’s World, Men’s Health, Shape, Men’s Fitness and Muscle and Fitness.

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