Rx Nutrition Resource Center

Rx Nutrition Resource Center

Disclosures: Mozaffarian reports receiving personal fees from Acasti Pharma, Barilla, Cleveland Clinic Foundation, Danone and Motif FoodWorks; serving on the advisory boards for Brightseed, Calibrate, DayTwo, Elysium Health, Filtricine, Foodome, HumanCo, January Inc, Perfect Day, Season and Tiny Organics; and receiving chapter royalties from UpToDate. Please see the study for all other authors' relevant financial disclosures.
October 19, 2021
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New nutrient profiling system grades healthfulness of foods

Disclosures: Mozaffarian reports receiving personal fees from Acasti Pharma, Barilla, Cleveland Clinic Foundation, Danone and Motif FoodWorks; serving on the advisory boards for Brightseed, Calibrate, DayTwo, Elysium Health, Filtricine, Foodome, HumanCo, January Inc, Perfect Day, Season and Tiny Organics; and receiving chapter royalties from UpToDate. Please see the study for all other authors' relevant financial disclosures.
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Researchers have developed a novel nutrient profiling system that grades the healthfulness and harmfulness of foods based on their nutrients, ingredients, processing characteristics, phytochemicals and additives.

The Food Compass system offers a broader range of characteristics than other profiling systems in order to better guide patients, physicians and policymakers, according to the team that created it. Dariush Mozaffarian, BS, MD, MPH, DrPH, a cardiologist and dean of the Friedman School at Tufts University, and colleagues designed the tool to evolve as future evidence emerges on the nutritional impact on gastrointestinal health, immunity, brain health, bone health, and physical and mental wellbeing.

Graphical depiction of data included in article.
Mozaffarian D, et al. Nature Food. 2021;doi:10.1038/s43016-021-00381-y.

“Once you get beyond ‘eat your veggies, avoid soda,’ the public is pretty confused about how to identify healthier choices in the grocery store, cafeteria, and restaurant,” Mozaffarian said in a press release.

The scoring system

According to a study published in Nature Food, the Food Compass uses one consistent score that incorporates several attributes of food to rank “mixed dishes,” or a combination of foods, which other profiling systems address inconsistently.

Dariush Mozaffarian

When creating the tool, Mozaffarian and colleagues assessed upwards of 100 other nutrient profiling systems, national and international dietary guidelines, nutrient requirements for health claims and nutrients and ingredients linked to health outcomes. Their final algorithm included 54 attributes across 9 domains: nutrient ratios, vitamins, minerals, food-based ingredients, additives, processing, specific lipids, fiber and protein and phytochemicals. The researchers prioritized attributes related to obesity, diabetes, CVD, cancer and undernutrition, including trans fats, plant oils, artificial sweeteners, frying, fermentation, specific vitamins and high-fructose corn syrup, among other characteristics. The attributes were scored per 100 kcal.

Mozaffarian and colleagues tested their system on 8,032 foods and beverages that the researchers said are commonly consumed by Americans. The Food Compass ranked items from least healthful (score of 1) to most healthful (score of 100). The researchers established a score of 70 or greater as a “reasonable” health score for foods that should be encouraged. Meanwhile, foods and beverages that scored 31 to 69 should be consumed in moderation, while any item scored 30 or lower should be consumed minimally or avoided.

Healthfulness of popular foods

In an interview with Healio Primary Care, Mozaffarian said it was “surprising how well Food Compass performed, and how it can help discriminate between different choices.”

The mean Food Compass Score across all 8,032 food items was 43.2. Among 12 major food categories, the mean score varied from 16.4 for savory snacks and sweet desserts to 78.6 for legumes, nuts and seeds. For sugar-sweetened sodas and energy drinks, the mean score was 27.6, while 100% fruit or vegetable juices earned a score of 67. The Food Compass scored beef at 24.9, poultry at 42.6, seafood at 67, starchy vegetables at 43.2 and green vegetables at 88.2. Moreover, nearly all raw fruit items earned a score of 100, while sugary fruits like bananas, dates and figs scored above 70.

Food Compass can “help guide consumers, product labeling, government policy and industry reformulations toward genuinely healthier choices,” Mozaffarian said. The researchers plan on testing the system against health outcomes and international food databases.

“With its publicly available scoring algorithm, Food Compass can provide a nuanced approach to promoting healthy food choices – helping guide consumer behavior, nutrition policy, scientific research, food industry practices and socially based investment decisions,” Renata Micha, PhD, a previous faculty member at the Friedman School, now at the University of Thessaly in Greece, said in the release.

References:

Mozaffarian D, et al. Nature Food. 2021;doi:10.1038/s43016-021-00381-y.

Ranking healthful foods from first to worst. https://www.newswise.com/articles/ranking-healthfulness-of-foods-from-first-to-worst?sc=cwhr&xy=10046886/?ad2f=1&aid=758750. Published Oct. 14, 2021. Accessed Oct. 14, 2021.