Are Fortunate Charms actually more healthy than a fried egg? New dietary rankings increase questions

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Non-fat frozen chocolate yogurt: 81. Ground beef: 26.

Canned peaches: 97. Cheddar cheese: 28.

Lucky charm: 60. Egg fried in butter: 29.

It is enough to make critics ask: Aren’t these the same processed food biases that caused us the obesity epidemic?

Over the years there have been several attempts to rank foods, color-coded, numeric lists in hopes of swaying the actions of regulators, educators, clinicians, manufacturers, and consumers.

The newest one is called Food Compass. It was developed by the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University and was recently published as a scientific article in the journal Nature Food.

“Once you get beyond ‘eat vegetables, avoid lemonade,’ the public is quite confused about how to find healthier alternatives in grocery stores, cafeterias, and restaurants,” said the cardiologist, professor of medicine and lead author Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian in a statement. “Consumers, policymakers, and even industry are looking for simple tools to guide everyone to healthier choices.”

Dr.  Contributed by Dariush Mozaffarian / Tufts University

Dr. Contributed by Dariush Mozaffarian / Tufts University

Food Compass ranks over 8,000 foods on a scale from 1 to 100 based on nutrient ratios, vitamins, minerals, food ingredients, additives, processing, fats, fiber, proteins and phytochemicals.

Food and drinks with a score of 70 or higher are recommended. Those who score 31-69 are recommended in moderation. Those under 30 should be kept to a minimum.

The examples of how food were valued, as provided by the authors of Food Compass, did little to challenge the status quo. They placed berries, nuts and curries on top, pudding, instant soup and cheeseburgers below. There are no surprises.

But it wasn’t long before the curious found other Food Compass recommendations that seemed to defy common sense.

“Lucky charms, Cheerios, sweet potato fries, grape juice and watermelon score at least twice as high as eggs, cheese and beef in a new health metric,” wrote nutrition researcher Ty Beal on October 18 on Twitter. “Do we really want to? does this for front-of-package labeling, warning notices, taxation and business valuations? “

Lucky charms, cheerios, sweet potato fries, grape juice and watermelon score at least twice as good as eggs, cheese and beef in a new health indicator. Do we really want this for front-of-packaging labeling, warning notices, taxation and business valuations? Https: //t.co/YgdJCMrpFk pic.twitter.com/SuQog1R0SF

– Ty Beal (@TyRBeal) October 18, 2021

After creating his own graphic that looked as professional as the one Tufts published, Beal, a researcher for the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition, was quickly tasked with picking out outlier examples, random reviews that Tufts was likely to change.

“Why not highlight the far lower levels of flatbreads, bagels, noodles, pretzels, white rice, savory snacks and more,” asked Mozaffarian on Twitter. These were all foods he noted were rated under 20 and that were once foods that got hearty endorsements in rankings. Mozaffarian also noted that certain cheeses and egg preparations were advertised on the Food Compass.

But there was little on the diet thumbs up for Lucky Charms, a granola made by General Mills of Minnesota that is high in sugar.

Beal shared the ingredient list and nutritional information for the marshmallow-wrapped breakfast cereal and called it “incredibly addicting”. He said the cereal is a food that “shouldn’t be anywhere near nutritious whole foods like eggs, cheese and beef regardless of added vitamins and minerals, let alone double your score.”

On Monday, October 25, Nature Food magazine closed its website paywall for the Food Compass article, giving researchers the freedom to browse the fine print. It also published a question-and-answer panel that answered emerging questions about their rating of processed grains higher than animal foods.

“Current science supports the consumption of whole grains and fiber as generally healthier choices than eggs, cheese or red meat,” it says, promoting a well-known dietary consensus that has come under increasing criticism in recent years.

In 2015, experts lifted the ban on dietary cholesterol, the main cause of eggs.

Since then, butter has also seen a renaissance, with high quality research showing no link between saturated fat and heart disease and other evidence showing a more nuanced understanding of LDL cholesterol, which is largely forgiving of all dairy products.

Happy Peanut Butter Cup?

“I still can’t understand how any of this is supposed to be any healthier than beef, cheddar cheese, and butter-fried eggs,” Beal wrote again on Tuesday, October 26th.

He’d dug into the Food Compass Supplement only to find out that sloppy Joes had fared worse than a certain staple on Halloween bags everywhere. “Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups,” as he put it, “are no healthier than beef.”

Beal says his main complaint came from his work highlighting the nutritional density of a variety of often maligned pet foods, including beef, cheese and eggs, but also dark leafy vegetables, shellfish and offal.

While nutritional deficiencies have always been a problem in low-income countries, women and adolescents in high-income countries are increasingly suffering from iron, magnesium and folic acid deficiencies.

The food compass turmoil marks the latest chapter in an ongoing erosion of firm beliefs about diet and health.

Once considered gospel, the suggestion that calories and a sedentary lifestyle favor obesity recently received persistent, previously inconceivable, attack in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

His list of high-ranking authors argued that health officials concerned about obesity and chronic disease should reshape nutritional policies around the central role of carbohydrates and insulin. Others have claimed that saturated fat and red meat bans also reflect outdated claims about diet and health.

Diet consistency is increasingly limited to giving priority to foods that come closest to their natural form, a trend that gives food manufacturers little guidance on health claims.

All of this makes the ranking of groceries and grocery products a company that is increasingly fraught with uncertainty and disputes and is even able to deliver some whoppers. Not the type of food.