New App Rates Packaged Food on Nutrition and Processing

Environmental Working Group

Say you're strolling down the aisles at your local supermarket, and you pick up a box of cereal or a bag of cookies. Oftentimes the packaging will be covered with all kinds of claims from "heart healthy" to "all natural" to "reduced fat." But how do you discern among all these different labels and really know what's good for you?

Environmental Working Group (EWG) recently launched a new web tool (and accompanying iOS app) that helps food-conscious shoppers make more informed decisions. The comprehensive tool, Food Scores, is a proprietary database of over 80,000 foods, 5,000 ingredients, and 1,500 brands that have been rated on three factors: nutrition, ingredient concerns, and degree of processing.

While many food apps only give nutrition information, Food Scores goes a step further by also including information on additives (such as flavorings, colors, and preservatives) and possible contaminants (such as mercury, BPA, or pesticides) so you know exactly what's in your food.

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The database takes each of the three factors into consideration, gives them an individual rating from low to high concern, and calculates an overall score for that particular food product. As EWG says, "Less is more." The lower the score, the better it is for your health.

On the nutrition side, Food Scores lets you determine calories, sodium, fat, and other figures based on age, gender, and life stage, so you have a more accurate look at how the nutrients stack up for, say, a male adult versus a female child.

According to EWG, the average food in Food Scores:

  • has 14 ingredients;

  • has a 58 percent chance of containing added sugar (including a 22 percent chance of added corn syrup) and is 13 percent sugar by weight;

  • has a 46 percent chance of containing artificial or natural "flavor" and a 14 percent chance of artificial coloring;

  • has a serving size of 80 grams packing 121 calories;

  • has 446 milligrams of salt per 100 grams. For some foods, that amounts to 30 percent of the daily salt intake recommended by the Institute of Medicine, and that's in a single serving.

This is not to say you should cut out treats and snacks completely from your diet. The app is meant as a tool to guide you through all the available options for your favorite foods and help you choose what may be a better (less processed) brand for your family.


EWG says that as the project expands, more items will be added to the database.


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