Adults who eat more foods with higher Food Compass scores have better long-term health according to a new study on food profiling, published in Nature.
The research conducted by Tufts university and partially funded by the NIH/National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, uses the Food Compass to evaluates the overall nutritional value of a food, beverage, or mixed meal.
Food compass is a nutrient profiling system which assesses and scores food by 9 domains, such as nutrient ratios, food-based ingredients, vitamins, minerals, extent of processing, and additives.
The values are then added up and nutritionists recommend foods with scores of 70 or above as foods to encourage; foods with scores of 31-69 to be eaten in moderation; and anything that scores 30 or below to be consumed sparingly.
In the study by Tufts, the Food Compass was used to score a person’s entire diet, based on the Food Compass scores of all the foods and beverages they regularly consume.
The individual’s food compass diet scores were compared against their health outcomes, using nationally representative data collected from almost 50,000 U.S. adults aged 20-85 who were enrolled between 1999-2018 in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES).
The researchers found multiple significant relationships between the Food Compass scores and the health of individual’s, even adjusting for other risk factors like age, sex, race, ethnicity, education, income, smoking, alcohol intake, physical activity, and diabetes status.
Overall, researchers found that the mean Food Compass score for the diets of the nearly 50,000 subjects was only 35.5 out of 100, well below their stated ideal.
“One of the most alarming discoveries was just how poor the national average diet is,” said Meghan O’Hearn, a doctoral candidate at the Friedman School and the study’s lead author. “This is a call for actions to improve diet quality in the United States.”
The nutrient profiling system Food Compass aims to provide a comprehensive assessment of food and beverage nutritional quality . The researchers aim to combine nutrient values such as levels of dietary fats, salt, sugar or fibre in isolation, and create a more holistic view of the food’s constituents to assess its healthiness.
According to the creators the he Food Compass system also boosts scores for ingredients shown to have protective effects on health, like fruits, vegetables, beans and legumes, whole grains, nuts and seeds and lowers scores for less healthful ingredients like refined grains, red and processed meat, and ultra-processed foods and additives.
To read more on the Tufts Food Compass follow the links:
O’Hearn, M., Erndt-Marino, J., Gerber, S. et al. Validation of Food Compass with a healthy diet, cardiometabolic health, and mortality among U.S. adults, 1999–2018. Nat Commun 13, 7066 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-022-34195-8