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Wouldn’t it be cool if you could just look up a list of foods that would tell you how healthy something is? Researchers from Tufts University did just that in their new paper! They developed a new tool called Food Compass to help consumers, restaurants, and cafeterias choose healthier foods.

“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. Consumers, policymakers, and even industry are looking for simple tools to guide everyone toward healthier choices,” the study’s lead author, Dariush Mozaffarianm, described the current situation.

Healthy dinner
It’s true that processed and fast food is often cheaper than wholesome fresh produce. But that doesn’t mean a healthy diet has to be expensive.

Food Compass

The researchers applied the latest nutrition science to examine both the healthful and harmful aspects of 8,032 foods and drinks and rank them from 1 (unhealthiest) to 100 (healthiest). During a 3-year process, they created a nutrient-profiling system called Food Compass. It scores 54 different characteristics of foods based on nutritional attributes linked to major chronic diseases such as obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular problems, and cancer, as well as to the risk of undernutrition for mothers, children, and the elderly.

Eat more foods rated 70 and above

The researchers encourage everyone to consume any foods or beverages rated 70 or more. They also said that foods between 31-69 should be consumed in moderation and anything with a score of 30 or lower should be reduced or eliminated. Interestingly, across major food categories, the average Food Compass score was only 43,2. This tells you that if you want your diet to be above average, you really have to make conscious choices about food. Here are a few examples from the study.

  • Raw fruits and vegetables: Many are at or near 100
  • Legumes, nuts, and seeds: Many are at or near 100
  • Plain yoghurt: 81
  • Plain oatmeal: 78
  • Braised chicken liver: 73
  • Seafood: 67 overall, but many fish are near 100 if cooked gently
  • Raw egg yolk: 61
  • Whole wheat bread: 60
  • Cappuccino: 58
  • Dried cherries: 55
  • Roast beef: 43
  • Feta cheese: 36
  • Grilled cheddar cheese sandwich: 32
  • Apple pie: 19
  • Salami: 18
  • Fast food pizza topped with meat: 14
  • McDonald’s Cheeseburger, small: 8
  • Teriyaki sauce: 4
  • Red Bull: 2
  • Marshmallows and most candy bars: 1

If you’re interested in more examples, you can dive into the dataset on the website of Tufts University here.

How you prepare your food matters

The study also shows that what you do with your ingredients can have a big impact on the resulting Food Compass score. For example, most raw fruits and vegetables score close to 100 but when they’re cooked or canned, the scores tend to be lower and when sugar or fat is added, many fall way below average. Similarly, nuts get much lower scores when salted or bathed in sugar. When it comes to animal foods, the heavily processed varieties such as hot dogs, jerky or luncheon meat tend to be significantly lower than minimally processed cooked meat. In general, gentle preparation methods such as cooking or steaming yield better scores than high-temperature ones such as frying or grilling.

So, how would your average day of eating score?