When the Internet is full of false information and exaggerated advertisements; when more and more new products are under the banner of health, but they can’t taste healthy; when a dazzling array of new foods can’t tell what’s good, because it’s really bad… …
The diet of contemporary people is becoming more and more complicated.
New brands, new products, and new ingredients are becoming more and more. Can you really tell which is healthy, which is unhealthy, or which is healthier among similar foods?
In order to solve this problem, researchers from the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University spent three years developing a new tool-the Food Compass .
This research is also part of the Food-PRICE (Cost Effectiveness of Policy Review and Intervention) project, funded by the National Institutes of Health, and the results have just been published on Nature Food .
They want to make it a simple matter to distinguish whether food is healthy.
A new tool for scoring food
How to make it easy to judge the health of food?
The answer is also very simple: scoring.
Just like when you were in school, the teacher drew a cross on the test paper, deciding whether you would go home and be beaten. Now the unhealthy food has become a poor student in the food circle.
Researchers conducted research and tests on 8032 common foods from national databases, and evaluated more than 100 other nutritional analysis systems, national and international dietary guidelines, and health-related nutritional requirements and ingredients.
The final scoring algorithm covers 9 areas, including vitamins, minerals, nutrient ratios, food ingredients, additives, processed products, fiber/protein, specific lipids, and phytochemicals.
At the same time, 54 attributes were paid attention to. The priority attributes correspond to common chronic diseases, such as obesity, diabetes, malnutrition, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and malnutrition risks for pregnant women, young children, and the elderly.
They also focused on the analysis of the impact of nutrients, which was not so much valued by other health systems before.
In addition to emphasizing negative effects like other systems, this new tool will also present a healthy part. This is a more equal aspect than other systems.
Another new feature is that the "Food Compass" is the first system for health analysis of mixed foods, rather than a single analysis of certain food ingredients.
In the case of pizza, many healthy nutrition systems have separate scoring algorithms for wheat, meat, and cheese, but not the finished product itself.
After all, most people walk into convenience stores, restaurants, and supermarkets. Apart from knowing that they should eat more vegetables, drink less soda, eat more fruits, and eat less junk food, it is difficult to distinguish the good from the bad.
And how harmful is the harmful food? Which is more unhealthy with high sugar and high fat?
Not every food will label itself as healthy or not. Even if everyone studies the ingredient list behind the package, there are still a bunch of ingredient terms that can’t be read.
In the "Food Compass", each score is based on the food itself that we eat in our mouths.
The total score is 100 points, from the unhealthiest 1 point to the healthiest 100 points.
Foods with a score greater than 70 are the healthiest and can be eaten regularly; foods with a score of 31 to 69 are healthy but should be eaten in moderation; foods with a score of less than 30 should be eaten at a minimum.
It can be said that they provide the most complete and simplest nutrition analysis system at the same time.
How many points do you eat?
The average score of 8032 foods in all systems is 43.2.
From the average scores of more subdivided categories, we can understand the general health of each category.
The average scores of common categories, from low to high, are as follows:
- Snacks and desserts: 16.4 points;
- Beef: 24.9 points;
- Sugary soda and energy drinks: 27.6 points;
- Poultry: 42.67 points;
- Seafood: 67 points (if simple cooked, many fish are close to 100 points);
- Vegetables: 69.1 points (almost all raw vegetables are close to 100 points);
- Fruits: 73.9 points (almost all raw fruits get 100 points, fruits with high sugar content such as dates, bananas, and figs score relatively low, but higher than 70 points)
- Beans, nuts and seeds: 78.6 points (many are close to 100 points).
▲ Picture from: The New York Times
We have selected a few outstanding or common food scores, sorted from high to low as follows:
- Fresh raspberries: 100 points
- Whole wheat cereals: 95 points
- Almonds: 91 points
- Olive oil: 85 points
- Instant oatmeal: 79 points
- Coffee (including cappuccino, etc.): 73 points
- Chicken breast: 61 points
- Whole wheat bread: 60 points
- Sweet potato chips: 55 points
- Whole eggs: 51 points
- Chicken Burger: 50 points
- Whole milk: 49 points
- Sandwich (including sauce): 35 points
- Toasted cheese bread: 32 points
- Pizza: 25 points
- Corn flakes: 19 points
- Lard: 18 points
- Cooked noodles: 17 points
- White rice mixed with oil: 10 points
- Tomato sauce: 9 points
- Cheeseburger: 8 points
- Instant noodles (with soup), marshmallows, pudding: 1 point
▲ Picture from: Eater
For more complete food guide scores, you can see here (click on the link) .
Overall, among the 10 main food categories, unprocessed foods are generally healthier than ultra-processed foods, with an average score of 62 points for unprocessed foods and 39 points for processed foods. When foods with high scores are added with unhealthy additives, or are cooked and canned, the scores will drop.
Therefore, it is always better to choose natural foods than adding various additives. We are often used to delicious processed foods to stimulate the taste, forgetting the health and beauty of the food itself.
There is no doubt that fruits, beans and nuts have the highest average scores. Many fresh fruits and vegetables, especially those with bright natural colors, have reached 100 points. These foods have high vitamins, minerals, and fiber and protein ratios.
▲ Picture from: Unsplash
Snacks and desserts score the lowest, because they are usually highly processed and are generally added with sugar, salt, butter, cream and other ingredients. Instant noodles with extremely high sodium content are only 1 point.
Among the beverages that everyone pays attention to, the score has also dropped from fresh fruit juice and vegetable juice to carbohydrate beverages. For example, carrot juice has 84 points, fruit juice drinks 19 points, and Coke has only 1 point.
There are also some foods that are often "misunderstood".
For example, it seems that the salad dressing and non-fat coffee creamer, which are called "0 fat", have scores less than 30 points. The spaghetti sauce, microwave popcorn, and multi-grain potato chips with added vegetables are all higher than 70 points.
▲ Picture from: Unsplash
When shopping, you can evaluate according to the score, and then quickly choose a certain food, or choose a food combination that suits you.
This kind of open scoring algorithm has a certain meaning for guiding consumer behavior, specifying nutrition policy, scientific research, food industry practice, and social investment.
According to the research team, the potential uses of the food compass mainly include the following :
- Encourage the food industry to develop healthier foods and reformulate the ingredients in popular processed foods and snacks;
- Provide employees with food purchase incentives through workplace health, medical care and nutrition assistance programs;
- Provide scientific basis for local and national policies, such as packaging labels, taxes, warning labels, and restrictions on child marketing;
- Enable restaurants and cafeterias in schools, businesses and hospitals to provide healthier food choices;
- Provide information for agricultural trade policy;
- Guide institutions and individual investors in environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) investment decisions.
Does scoring food really work?
It is hard to say that this is the best way to judge the health of food.
It does not take into account the personalization of people's diet. Everyone's physical condition and eating habits are also different. If you use a score to replace it, there is a "one size fits all" feeling.
Ten years ago, the United States urged manufacturers to label “high saturated fat, high sugar, and high salt” on food labels in an attempt to solve the rising obesity rate, but it has received a lot of criticism because the labeling method is too simple. Some people will have no problem eating fatty foods, while others will need foods that are beneficial to fats.
For patients with specific dietary restrictions, they need to be more cautious about this "food compass", and they should eat according to actual conditions.
Moreover, the replacement of food is too fast.
Nutrition science itself is a constantly changing science, and we are in an era of rapid changes in information. "Food Compass" can only be said to have carried out a clear and insightful analysis of the current food.
For the overall ecology of food safety, the "food compass" at least gives a preliminary judgment, allowing people to easily make relatively healthy choices about food.
Moreover, this is also an important step in the industry's comprehensive nutritional analysis of mixed foods and individual foods.
When this food health system and data expand to more places around the world, it can also bring more reference.
▲ Picture from: Unsplash
China's food safety situation is not optimistic.
Every 315 party will report various food safety incidents. In recent years, various harmful ingredients such as waste oil, clenbuterol, sodium cyclamate, expired burgers, etc. have been frequently exposed, but there are still more undisclosed still undercurrents.
Recently, "The Lancet" published a new research result on diet and health .
After more than 20 years of tracking the diet in 195 countries/regions around the world, they found that about 20% of people in the world fell ill and died due to dietary problems, and China ranked first.
The main reason is that the Chinese diet is high in salt (high sodium), lack of fruits, and lack of cereals (groceries), which make it easy to get cancer and cardiovascular diseases.
With the continuous improvement of living standards of contemporary people, now everyone no longer pursues fullness as in the past. Our consumption quality is constantly improving. We pay more attention to how to eat safely and healthily, and we are also pursuing fresher, more natural and more healthy food . Nutritious food , so our country is constantly revising new food safety laws to cope with new food changes.
▲ Picture from: Unsplash
Although "food is the heaven for the people", but "food is the first".
The "food compass" is just the beginning. Gyorgy Scrinis, a food and nutrition expert at the University of Melbourne, once made recommendations on ultra-processed foods all over the market . He believes that new food safety research is not just about how people make dietary choices. There are more aspects to consider.
For example, it is necessary to consider the structural issues in food supply, as well as people's economic ability to consume food. Many cheap, convenient and delicious "junk foods" are actually the favorites of low-income people.
For unhealthy ultra-processed foods, the point is not to eliminate them, but to let everyone know how much these foods account for in our total diet, so as to find a healthy balance.
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