Like there weren’t enough nutrition rating systems out there, right? Here’s another one to add to your list of things to check while shopping, but the ANDI score is actually worth getting to know. Measuring the nutrient density of your food, it can help you make the best choices so that you can ensure that you are consuming enough vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, and all that other good stuff.
This is essential for a normal immune system, but also to keep your body’s detoxification and cellular repair mechanisms working right, protecting you from cancer and other nasty diseases. There are also plenty more of those protective compounds that are yet to be named but may still be essential to us. The only way to ensure that you are getting enough of everything is to eat a variety of colorful plant foods and nutrient-rich natural foods.
As we know, our modern, low-nutrient eating style has led to an over-fed, under-nourished, overweight population plagued with food-related illnesses and medical costs spiraling out of control. The Aggregate Nutrient Density Index (ANDI) score was developed by Eat Right America and Dr. Joel Fuhrman, author of Eat To Live as a way for us to better evaluate the foods in the produce aisle, since they don’t come with a nutrition label on the back.
To determine the scores above almost all vitamins and minerals were considered and added in. Nutrient Data from Nutritionist Pro software for an equal caloric amount of each food item was obtained. The following nutrients were included in the evaluation: Calcium, Carotenoids: Beta Carotene, Alpha Carotene, Lutein & Zeaxanthin, Lycopene, Fiber, Folate, Glucosinolates, Iron, Magnesium, Niacin, Selenium, Vitamin B1 (Thiamin) Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin), Vitamin B6, Vitamin B12, Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Zinc, plus ORAC score X 2 (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity is a method of measuring the antioxidant or radical scavenging capacity of foods).
Nutrient quantities, which are normally in many different measurements (mg, mcg, IU) were converted to a percentage of their RDI so that a common value could be considered for each nutrient. Since there is currently no RDI for Carotenoids, Glucosinolates, or ORAC score, goals were established based on available research and current understanding of the benefits of these factors. The sum of the food’s total nutrient value was then multiplied by a fraction to make the highest number equal 1000 so that all foods could be considered on a numerical scale of 1 to 1000.
In order to measure nutrient density, Eat Right America created rankings of foods according the nutrients they pack. This concept is explained further in Dr. Fuhrman’s book Eat for Health.“Because phytochemicals are largely unnamed and unmeasured, these rankings underestimate the healthful properties of colorful natural plant foods compared to processed foods and animal products. One thing we do know is that the foods that contain the highest amount of known nutrients are the same foods that contain the most unknown nutrients too. So even though these rankings may not consider the phytochemical number sufficiently they are still a reasonable measurement of their content.”
Of course, the ANDI score is only one tool, and sometimes it may seem quite misleading. Walnuts, flax seeds, quinoa, and avocados, for example, are known superfoods, but due to their high (good) fat content they have low scores. Fuhrman explains:
“Keep in mind that nutrient density scoring is not the only factor that determines good health. For example, if we only ate foods with a high nutrient density score our diet would be too low in fat. So we have to pick some foods with lower nutrient density scores (but preferably the ones with the healthier fats) to include in our high nutrient diet. Additionally, if a thin person or highly physically active individual ate only the highest nutrient foods they would become so full from all of the fiber and nutrients that would keep them from meeting their caloric needs and they would eventually become too thin. This of course gives you a hint at the secret to permanent weight control.”
The ANDI score system was introduced in all Whole Foods stores this year, and that’s the only place I have seen it used so far. I hope we will start seeing it used in more places very soon since I think it’s an excellent tool for those of us who really care about packing a lot of nutritional punch into each and every bite. Hot tip: go for the kale and the collards!
As mentioned by Dr. Fuhrman, it should not be your one nutritional guiding light, but the ANDI score is a particularly helpful tool for those of you trying to lose weight, since it rates the nutritional density in relation to the caloric content of a food. Hot tip, if you want to loose weight: eat mostly nutrient-dense, high-score produce, but mix in a few higher-fat, low-score foods like nuts, seeds and avocados.
The bottom line is: always fill half your plate with veggies and you can’t go wrong!
Top photo by B*2, Creative Commons.