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Nutrient profiling system ranks healthy foods

A research team from the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University has recently developed a new nutrient profiling system that can rank the healthfulness of foods. The tool will provide invaluable assistance to consumers, restaurants, cafeterias, and policy makers to produce, choose, and endorse healthy foods. 

Food Compass has been developed over three years and promises to be the most comprehensive and science-based nutrient profiling system to date. While many existing systems focus on the harmful factors of various foods and examine just a few nutrients, Food Compass is equally considering harmful and healthful factors, and takes into account a large variety of nutrients, ingredients (including phytochemicals and additives), and processing characteristics. Furthermore, while previous systems subjectively group and score foods differently, Food Compass is objectively scoring all foods, drinks, or even mixed dishes and meals by using a single consistent score. 

“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,” said study lead author Dariush Mozaffarian, dean of the Friedman School. “Consumers, policy makers, and even industry are looking for simple tools to guide everyone toward healthier choices.”

Food Compass is the most comprehensive nutrient profiling system in the world, scoring 54 different characteristics across nine domains representing various aspects of food that are related to health. These features and domains have been selected based on nutritional attributes linked to diseases such as diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular issues, or cancer, as well as to risks of malnutrition.

Among the major food and drinks categories, the lowest scoring were snacks, sweet desserts, sugar-sweetened sodas, and energy drinks. Among the highest ranked foods were fruits, vegetables, fruits and vegetable juices, nuts, seeds, and seafood.

This system promises to be extremely useful in encouraging the food industry to develop healthier foods; enabling restaurants and cafeterias to offer healthier food options; informing agricultural trade policies; and guiding individual and institutional investors on environmental, social, and corporate governance investment decisions. 

“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,” concluded co-author Renata Micha, a former faculty member at the Friedman School.

The study is published in the journal Nature Foods

Image Credit: Tufts University

By Andrei Ionescu, Staff Writer

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