There's typically a certain amount of guesswork involved in choosing what to eat. Translating sugar, calorie, protein, carb, potassium, fat, sodium, and cholesterol content into the decision to put something in your mouth can be daunting. Then, there are all those contaminants and additives that also somehow make it onto our plates. What's a conscious eater to do? Enter the brand-spanking-new brainchild of the Environmental Working Group (EWG), Food Scores: Rate Your Plate, a database that rates over 80,000 food items on a scale of one to 10 — answering that pesky "Should I put this in my body?" question for you.
The EWG scores each product on the basis of nutritional value, ingredient concerns (including the presence of antibiotics, hormones, contaminants, and a range of additives), and processing (the less modification a product has undergone, the better). Low scores indicate healthy choices; high numbers raise red flags. According to the EWG's explanation of its methodology, nutrition — followed by ingredients and then processing — was weighted most heavily when calculating scores. Researchers added an extra 0.5 to the scores of foods that aren't certified organic and an extra 0.2 to the scores of foods that are only 70% certified organic. (For those wondering, the presence of genetically engineered ingredients did not, in itself, influence scoring in any way.) If all this sounds like a lot of math, you're right: It took the EWG's team of researchers more than three years to run the numbers on the 80,000 food products, which span over 1,500 brands and 23 searchable categories.
Consumers can finally reap the benefits, starting today, by using the Food Scores website and the downloadable accompanying app for Android and iPhone. Now, you can search for the stats on your Kind bar before you bite into it; if you’re in the mood for a yogurt, just navigate to the “Yogurt & Yogurt Drinks” page in the “Dairy & Dairy Alternatives” category and sort your options by score for a foolproof way of determining the best-for-you pick.
Of course, a database — no matter how comprehensive or convenient — isn't a substitute for nutrition education or knowing what works for you and your body. And, it's no surprise that many of the "healthier" choices within a given category are the most expensive. Buying Maranatha Organic Raw Creamy Almond Butter (which received an EWG score of 1.1 and retails at $18.39 for eight ounces) instead of good ol' Jif Creamy Peanut Butter (which received a score of 4.5 and retails for $3.99 for 16 ounces) may not be feasible for everyone. Fortunately, the "Food Scores" database — and its wealth of nutritional insight — is totally free.