Cook with Food

Scorn for Scoring Foods for Health

Linn Steward, AuthorA few weeks ago, nutrition researchers at Tufts released Food Compass. It is a complex algorithm for scoring the healthfulness of foods on a scale of 1 to 100. I’ve not yet heard a positive assessment from RDN colleagues.

The tool has generated anger and rage on Twitter, which is to be expected. Personally I doubt that any nutrient profiling system can quantify the radiant complexity of food on any scale. My working assumption is that food is more than the sum of its nutrient parts and will always defy reductionist categorization.

So the scorn I’ve been reading for this approach to scoring the healthfulness of foods is hardly surprising.

Redeeming Qualities

However, there are aspects of The Food Compass I like and I’ve listed them as follows:

1) Nutrient profiling systems work better for meal analysis or institutional cycle menu analysis or restaurant menu assessments than they do for individual food items. The Food Compass enables the analysis of individual foods in the context in which folks actually eat.

2) The Food Compass assesses saturated fat using the fatty acid ratio instead of a single gram value per meal or per day. The FAR calculates the ratio between saturated and unsaturated fats.

3) The assessment of sodium uses the ratio between sodium and calories – instead of a single milligram amount. The Compass acknowledges and counts sodium/potassium ratio.

4) The Food Compass is an improvement over 1990s complex nutrient content claims for what is healthy. The algorithm’s design allows updates as the science evolves.

Click here for the publication describing the Food Compass in Food Nature. For further perspective, click here and here.

Today’s guest post comes from Linn Steward, who is a culinary nutritionist and experienced recipe analyst. Years of experience have taught her that food is very much more than the sum of its nutrient parts.

Editor’s note: Once again, Linn Steward offers us a reasonable view of a challenging subject in nutrition. So we thank her for sharing it here. We also note that the humble peanut butter and jelly sandwich gets an unsettling score of 35 on this scale of 1 to 100. But on another scale, it comes out on top – adding 33 minutes to our life every time we eat one. Hmmm.

Cook with Food, painting by Frans Snyders / WikiArt

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November 9, 2021