Getting Direction From A Food Compass

We used to be told to pay attention to a food pyramid. Now Tufts University has developed a different mechanism for assessing what to eat, called a food compass. And, like any good compass, it’s definitely suggesting a change in direction when it comes to preconceived notions of healthy eating.

Tufts describes the food compass as “a novel nutrient profiling system developed by researchers at Tufts University” that evaluates foods across various domains and uses an algorithm to determine a score. The approach results in an assigned Food Compass Score (FCS) between 1 and 100 (with 100 being the most healthful) to nearly any food. You are encouraged to eat and drink items with scores over 70, consume items with scores between 31 and 69 in moderation, and minimize your intake of foods with scores under 30.

It’s probably not surprising that spinach scores a perfect 100 on the food compass, that raw fruits and nuts all receive high scores, and that snacks and sweet desserts are at the bottom of the scale, but some of the other results aren’t quite as expected. For example, the media has noted that a chocolate ice cream cone with nuts gets a higher food compass score (35) than a coconut and chocolate granola bar (15). The chocolate ice cream cone with nuts contains proteins and nutrients, whereas the granola bar is “mostly refined starch and sugar.” The chocolate/nuts ice cream cone even outscores frozen yogurt, which comes in at a measly 23. (The frozen yogurt is one point better than a thick crust pizza with extra meat, which ekes out a 22.) And according to the food compass, an egg omelet (51) isn’t as healthy as a bowl of plain Cheerios (95) or instant oatmeal (75).

One of the issues about food compasses, food pyramids, and other devices to help us achieve healthier diets is that it’s not easy to use them when you are out and about, making dietary choices. But any rating system that says a chocolate ice cream cone with nuts is healthier than a granola bar is bound to turn some heads and, potentially, cause people to pay attention and develop healthier eating habits.

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