Rate Your Plate: What Score is Your Food?

I think the idea of providing detailed information about our food products is a beneficial and healthy-minded decision. While I already consider myself knowledgeable about the food I choose to eat — or more importantly not eat — many Americans are not so educated.

Mnet 139232 Food Score Pic Lead

While you’re savoring every bite of that candy bar or cake on this National Chocolate Day, the Environmental Working Group is rating its nutritional value and assigning it a score.

Yesterday, the environmental research organization, EWG, introduced one of the most comprehensive online databases of food products: Food Scores. Information is provided for more than 80,000 items sold in grocery stores across the United States.

The ‘Rate Your Plate’ reveals in detail the most popular branded food items’ information, which is largely supplied by the food companies’ mandatory labeling, and allows consumers to find information like how many products contain brominated vegetable oil as an ingredient or whether a certain food contains any preservatives.

According to a blog by EWG’s President Ken Cook, the average food listed on Food Scores has:

  • 14 ingredients
  • 58 percent change of containing added sugars
  • 46 percent chance of containing artificial flavoring
  • Serving size of 80 grams packing 121 calories
  • 446 milligrams of salt per 100 grams, which in some foods amounts to 30 percent of the daily salt intake recommendation set forth by the Institute of Medicine.

The food gets a score of 1 through 10 (1 is the best) based on how well they perform in three categories: nutrition, processing and “ingredients of concern.”

As a consumer, I think the idea of providing detailed information about our food products is a beneficial and healthy-minded decision. While I already consider myself pretty knowledgeable about the food I choose to eat — or more importantly not eat — many Americans are not so educated.

For example, I have a friend who was shocked to find out that her daily indulgence of chips included any fat. Seriously.

For this reason I believe EWG’s Food Scores could be a whole new way of trying to fight the obesity epidemic of the world. Which, if trends continue, statistics show nearly 44 percent of all Americans will be obese by 2030. That number, in my mind, is totally preventable.

The new web service is a straightforward way to put the information in front of consumers, should they want it. My opinion is not that of others though, as supported by a statement by the Grocery Manufactures Association this morning.

GMA’s response to the new food rating system was that:

“The Environmental Working Group’s food ratings are severely flawed and will only provide consumers with misinformation about the food and beverage products they trust and enjoy.”

The statement goes on to say the methodology behind EWG’s food ratings is void of the scientific rigor that should be devoted to any effort to provide consumers with food safety information.

Included in GMA’s statement is also a paragraph advising consumers to only follow the federal government’s Dietary Guidelines, which include “eating a variety of foods as recommended by ChooseMyPlate.Gov.”

Perhaps I am alone in this speculation, but it seems to me that statement is covering up the real issue at hand. That is, the nutritional information — whether it portrays a certain food item in a positive or negative light — is still knowledge that needs to be shared with consumers.

If we are ever going to reverse this obesity epidemic, something needs to be done. Even if that something is as simple as providing a score to your food. I’m not saying it’s the answer, but it certainly is a step in the right direction.

What are your thoughts on the Food Scores system? Is it a database you think you will use? Do you think having the information readily available will help consumers choose healthier foods? Or do you believe the GMA is correct in saying the system is flawed and will only turn consumers away from their trusted food items?

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