Environmental Working Group Launches Novel Food Scoring Database to Improve Food Purchasing Habits

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The Environmental Working Group has released Food Scores: Rate Your Plate, a tool that looks at your food from every health angle. The database, which is also available as a mobile app, rates 80,000 foods from 1,500 brands. The scoring system includes nutrition and ingredients of concern such as additives and contaminants.

“When you think about healthy food, you have to think beyond the Nutrition Facts panel,” said Renee Sharp, Environmental Working Group director of research. “It doesn’t always tell the whole story. EWG’s Food Scores shows that certain foods that we think are good for us may actually be much less so because they contain questionable food additives or toxic contaminants.”

The database includes an overall score to help people find cleaner, healthier foods using a 1 to 10 rating system, one being the best. Questionable additives and contaminants like arsenic, mercury, and antibiotics are noted in the database. Nutritional facts are customized by gender, life stage, and pregnancy.

In all, 18 percent of products scored well (1-3), 57 percent scored midrange (4-7), and 25 percent of products scored poorly (8-10). Added sugar was a big concern because 60 percent of the foods in the database contained added sugar including granola, trail mix bars, deli meats, salad dressings, and nut butters.

“We developed EWG's Food Scores in recognition of two trends," said Ken Cook, Environmental Working Group president and cofounder. "First, Americans are becoming increasingly concerned about excessive amounts of sugar, salt, fat and other unhealthy ingredients in supermarket food. Second, they no longer trust big food companies or popular brands to put health before profits, not even the health of our kids. With EWG’s Food Scores, shoppers can quickly see what food companies are really putting into their food."

To try out the database, I took three food items from my pantry and fridge to test. First, I tried Late July Multigrain Snack Chips, which scored a 5 because of high caloric density and sodium as well as the possible contamination of arsenic because it’s a rice product. The next product I tried was Earth Balance Natural Peanut Butter with Flaxseed, which scored a 4 because it contains high levels of saturated fat, some added sugars, and it’s high in calories. It’s also not certified organic. Finally, I tried out Lightlife Organic Smoky Tempeh Strips, a favorite in our house. It scored a 4.5 because it may be contaminated with arsenic, it has too much sodium, and adding flavoring.

This food database is truly amazing. While it’s impossible to be perfect, you really get an idea of places where your diet could use improvement. Even for those that know a lot about nutrition. And the best part: it's super easy to use.

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Image: Phillip Stewart

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