Share on PinterestRaspberries, along with other fruits, are at the top of a new food ranking system. Alexey Dulin / EyeEm / Getty Images
- Researchers have developed a “food compass” that ranks foods from healthiest to least healthy based on nine factors.
- Fruits and vegetables were rated the highest, while processed foods were rated the lowest.
- Experts say the system can be used to select foods for your diet based on your individual goals.
Deciding whether a food is “good” for you is not always easy.
However, researchers at Tufts University in Massachusetts may have made it easier by developing a new tool that sorts more than 8,000 foods and beverages based on their health.
“Once you get beyond ‘eat vegetables, avoid lemonade,’ the public is quite confused about how to find healthier options in grocery stores, cafeterias and restaurants,” Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian, lead study author and dean of the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts, said in a press release.
“Consumers, policymakers, and even industry are looking for simple tools to guide everyone to healthier choices,” he added.
The research was funded by the National Institutes of Health and supported by both Danone, a food company, and the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.
The nutritional profiling system is called the food compass and evaluates food based on nine factors:
- Nutrient ratios
- Fiber / protein
- specific lipids
- secondary plant substances
The system gives the food a score that ranges from 1 for the unhealthiest to 100 for the healthiest.
The researchers said that foods and drinks with a score of 70 or higher, such as raspberries, should be promoted.
Foods with a score between 31 and 69, such as sweet potato chips, should be consumed in moderation.
Anything that hits 30 or less, like instant noodles, should be consumed minimally.
Lauri Wright, PhD, assistant professor of public health at the University of South Florida, said the system could help people make better decisions, but it wasn’t perfect.
“I welcome the development of [a] Tool that can guide consumer behavior. I think it is helpful for consumers to categorize food this way. Instead of categorizing by just one nutrient, they included many nutrients and health traits in their algorithm to categorize foods, ”Wright told Healthline.
“Consumers are confused by so many health messages – ‘cut fat but choose healthy fats’. This is a more specific guideline for consumers. However, it doesn’t take into account the individualization of people’s diet, ”she added.
In the Food Compass system, the snacks and sweet desserts category had the lowest average score of 16.
The highest-scoring category was fruit with an average score of almost 74. Vegetables had an average score of 69, and legumes, nuts, and seeds had an average score of 68.
Almost every raw fruit received a score of 100.
“I would argue that almost any fresh fruit or vegetable, especially those that are naturally light in color, should garnish a near perfect 100. I would also argue that almost any fresh fruit and vegetable can and maybe should be eaten free, ”Dana Hunnes, PhD, MPH, RD, a senior nutritionist at the University of California’s Los Angeles Medical Center, told Healthline.
“It is very difficult to overeat fresh fruits and vegetables because of their fiber and water content in terms of calories, which makes them a filling food. I’ve never heard of someone who put on weight because they eat too much fruits or vegetables, ”she said.
Wright said there are a number of factors that determine how healthy a food is.
Nutrient density is one of them.
“Nutrient density is the amount of healthy nutrients in relation to the calorie content. A high nutrient density food, such as fruits and vegetables, is high in nutrients and fewer in calories. A low nutrient density food like soda or candy is low in nutrients and high in calories, ”she said.
When it comes to food choices, making healthy choices depends on an individual’s health goals, according to Wright.
“It is important that a person looks at their current habits and lifestyle and defines their health goals,” she said. “Do you want to lose weight? Do you want to increase your energy level? This will help prioritize the foods you choose. “
“I would recommend working with a registered dietitian who can customize a plan to improve your habits and health goals,” she added.
As a starting point for making healthier choices, Hunnes said it was a good idea to limit processed foods and focus on plant-based choices.
“I always strongly recommend adding more unprocessed foods to your diet (e.g. fresh fruit, vegetables and whole grains) and reducing the amount of animal foods in your diet (including milk, meat, chicken and fish, as is available) ) lots of data to support the fact that they can be flammable). Where fresh fruits and vegetables can be difficult to buy or find, frozen foods are a wonderful and equally healthy substitute, and often cheaper, ”she said.
“Food should always look good and taste good. Nobody will want to eat healthy foods that don’t taste good. Too often, people have become so used to the flavors of processed foods that are salty, greasy, and sugary that we forget what real, unadulterated foods taste like. That’s the most important thing in the first place, ”remarked Hunnes.