Do you try to "eat healthy" and avoid "junk foods"? What makes a food healthy or unhealthy is seldom defined. What's more, these widely-used terms can confuse conversations of food and nutrition. References to foods as "good" or "bad" are often based on value judgements that do little to help consumers identify nutritious foods and prioritize some foods over others.
At CPHN, we have used nutrient profiling to define the nutritional quality of foods in a way that is objective and transparent. The technique is based on the idea that foods that contain more nutrients relative to calories are better at helping us meet our nutrition requirements without taking in too many calories. Nutrient profiling requires a nutrient database, so that each food can be characterized in terms of its calorie and nutrient content.
Defining a Nutritious Food: A Nutrient Density Score
The naturally nutrient rich (NNR) score is based on mean percentage daily values (DVs) for 14 nutrients in 2000 kcal food and can be used to assign nutrient density values to foods within and across food groups. The following graph shows the relation between energy density and the Naturally Nutrient Rich score, for vegetables and fruit. (Source: Drewnowski, AJCN, 2005)
Nutrient profiling is being used by some supermarkets to help shoppers identify nutritious foods. Schools can also use nutrient profiling to establish standards for vending machines, snack sales and other competitive foods. A current project is applying nutrient profiling to improve the quality of foods distributed by food banks.
We welcome collaborations with retailers, schools and other institutions in putting to work our experience with nutrient profiling.
Defining nutrient density: development and validation of the nutrient rich foods index. Drewnowski A. J Am Coll Nutr. 2009 Aug;28(4):421S-426S. Review. abstract
The Nutrient Rich Foods Index helps to identify healthy, affordable foods. Drewnowski A. Am J Clin Nutr. 2010 Apr;91(4):1095S-1101S. abstract
Development and validation of the nutrient-rich foods index: a tool to measure nutritional quality of foods. Fulgoni VL 3rd, Keast DR, Drewnowski A. J Nutr. 2009 Aug;139(8):1549-54. abstract
Nutrient-rich foods: applying nutrient navigation systems to improve public health. Drewnowski A, Fulgoni VL, Young MK, Pitman S. J Food Sci. 2008 Nov;73(9):H222-8. abstract