Want some help choosing healthier, simpler, and greener food choices? EWG's new Food Scores has you covered.
Trying to go to the grocery store and come home with only good nutritious food these days can be a real challenge, especially if you're in a hurry and don't have time to read through every ingredient on the label.
The picture-perfect image of the food, along with the marketingspeak and dubious claims printed all over the packaging, can be at odds with what's actually inside the box, and sometimes reading the small print on the ingredients and nutrition facts label is even more confusing, especially if you can't tell the difference between a benign ingredient and a potentially harmful one.
Thanks to the hard work of the Environmental Working Group (EWG), a new easy-to-use food database and iOS app can help make choosing nutritious and healthy foods much simpler, as it offers a quick way of finding out what's really in your food and why it matters, so you can make the most informed food-buying decisions.
The Food Scores tool, which covers some 80,000 food products, scores items on a scale of 1 (best) to 10 (worst), by factoring in nutrition, food additives or contaminants, and the amount of processing that the foods go through. The tool weights a food's nutritional value heaviest, followed by the ingredient concerns, and then processing (which is weighted relatively lightly compared to nutrition). Each listing also has detailed information about the food product and the ingredients it contains, and how the score for that product was determined.
“We developed EWG's Food Scores in recognition of two trends. 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. - Ken Cook, EWG's president and cofounder
Both the web tool and the app allow you to easily look up a product by name or company name, to search by category (salad dressings, breakfast meals, etc.), or to search for just GMO-free, gluten-free, or certified organic foods, and to quickly find the highest rated products in any category. A dynamic search function also allows you to customize the products' nutritional Daily Values percentages for you by factoring in your age, gender, and life stage, including pregnancy, in order to get personalized nutritional results.
For the 80,000 products in the database (from over 1500 brands), the Food Scores tool covers some 5,000 ingredients, and shines a light on products with questionable additives such as nitrites, those with harmful food contaminants such as arsenic, and meat and dairy products that may contain high levels of pesticides, antibiotics, or hormones. Food Scores can also help guide shoppers to make more healthy choices in the produce aisle by identifying which vegetables and fruits are most likely to be contaminated with pesticide residues, so they can be passed over in favor of other 'cleaner' produce items.
When at the store, the Food Scores app's barcode scanning feature can help you quickly find the details for a product in question, and to be able to easily compare other products in the same category, in order to filter out the least desirable items or to choose the better of two similar products.
According to an EWG blog post, many of the foods from popular brands "are not so much food as they are conveyances for excessive amounts of sugar, salt and preservatives." In fact, the average food in the Food Scores database has 14 ingredients, has a 58% chance of containing added sugar (and is 13% sugar by weight), has 46% chance of using artificial or so-called 'natural' flavors, and contains high amounts of salt and/or calories as well.