If you’re trying to stick to your New Year’s weight-loss resolution, you may also be trying to figure out which foods to reach for when hunger hits. Some recent dietary research from Tufts University offers surprising guidelines about what constitutes healthy choices. As in, you may be better off snacking on Fritos
or savoring an ice-cream cone with chopped nuts rather than devouring a multigrain bagel.
The scientific team at Tufts’ Friedman School of Nutrition and Science created what’s being described as “a new nutrient profiling system” that is designed “to help consumers, food companies, restaurants, and cafeterias choose and produce healthier foods.” Called the Food Compass, the system rates foods on a 1- to 100-point scale, with 100 being the healthiest rating, and bases the scores on such factors as nutrients, food ingredients, processing characteristics and additives. The system does yield some ratings that might come as a surprise to food shoppers. Many items that might conventionally be considered unhealthy received a score of higher than 50. Among them are such snacks as plain Fritos (55), lightly salted potato chips (69) and chocolate-covered almonds (78). By contrast, some items that are often deemed healthier choices get a score lower than 50. Among them: reduced-calorie rye bread (34), Kellogg’s
Corn Flakes (19) and a multigrain bagel with raisins (19). The research was released last year, but a new study, published recently in the Nature Communications journal, found that those who ate foods with higher Food Compass scores had better long-term health outcomes. The study looked at dietary records and health data from nearly 48,000 U.S. adults between the ages of 20 and 85. “This is a call for actions to improve diet quality in the United States,” said Meghan O’Hearn, the study’s lead author and a doctoral candidate at Tufts’ Friedman School, in a statement released by Tufts. The Food Compass system has generated a fair bit of discussion in recent months. In particular, much has been made of the fact that a helping of chocolate ice cream with nuts served in a cone gets a higher score — 37 — than does that multigrain bagel.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the foods that generally rank highest, according to the Food Compass scale, are fruits and vegetables, with several items receiving a perfect score of 100. Those include low-sodium tomato juice, celery juice, blackberries and grapefruit. Dariush Mozaffarian, the Tufts study’s lead author and dean of the Friedman School, said the goal of the research was to enlighten consumers and others about the food selections they can make. “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,” he said. “Consumers, policy makers and even industry are looking for simple tools to guide everyone toward healthier choices.”