While shopping in some food stores like Whole Foods, you may have noticed something called an ANDI score plastered on every product sign. If you are wondering what the heck this score is and if there’s some secret formula you should be following to maximize your health, you’ve come to the right place for clarification.
The acronym ANDI stands for AGGREGATE NUTRIENT DESNITY INDEX and was created by Joel Fuhrman, MD, author and founder of Eat Right America. Such rating systems like this and others (i.e. ORAC, NuVal, etc.) are designed to quickly sum-up a given food’s nutritional value and are supposed to make it easier for you to make healthy choices. In this given case with ANDI scores, I have to say that overall, to the general consumer, they don’t. The ANDI score ranges from 1 to 1,000 and measures the total nutrient density of a food, including vitamins, minerals, and antioxidant capacity.
Let’s face it – we’re already walking into the store with a mental death-grip of what we should and should not be eating while trying to buy ingredients to concoct somewhat normal recipes that our children and families will want to eat. Do we need looming acronyms and numerical scores on every product sign adding yet another facet to the millions of considerations we’re already making as we shop? Granted, I am a HUGE proponent of any program set up meant to help consumers make healthier and wise choices when shopping. However, I feel that the ANDI score, as helpful as it is to those who understand it best, can be very misleading to the general public and steer consumers away from extremely healthy foods.
The pros to the ANDI score: it takes into account many nutrients and is a comprehensive nutrient assessment that rates nutrient density by calorie instead of quantity of food. This in turn skews a favorable score towards vegetables, as it should. For example, if you compared the nutrients in a cup of kale to a cup of lentils, you may choose lentils. But the snapshot would be inaccurate, because lentils have almost 20 times the calories of kale. The ANDI scores? Kale at 1,000, lentils 104.
This leads to the cons and my unfavorable view towards ANDI scores for use by consumers who may not know how to take everything into account for an optimal healthy choice. Some foods that your body may need in moderation (i.e. healthy fats, like Omega-rich foods), score very low on the ANDI score (olive oil gets a 9). Therefore, you need to be informed enough to know that despite the low ANDI score rating, such foods are not ones to avoid (or just sticking to foods with high scores).
Let’s try and understand the ANDI score and where it comes from a little better so you can decide if you will choose to follow it next time you are strolling the aisles at the grocery store. Rather than have me re-invent the wheel, this information is based on a piece Fooducate.com did on the ANDI score with my explanations and comments dispersed throughout (SOURCE: Fooducate.com):
The ANDI system is a part of a bigger initiative by Whole Foods, entitled Health Starts Here, which encompasses not just making healthy food available, but also providing education on what to do what with that food (culinary lessons, 28 day programs to jump start healthy eating habits…).
The healthy eating principles Whole Foods Market is promoting are here:
- plant based diet
- whole foods (less processed flours, for example)
- low fat – or the right fats (unsaturated, more from plants and less from animals)
- nutrient dense [this means how many nutrients can be packed into a food] (that’s where ANDI comes in)
The ANDI score, based on a Dr. Fuhrman’s Nutrient Density Scoring System analyzes many nutrients in a food product: 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).
The data for whole foods such as produce, grains, and legumes is relatively easy to analyze based on USDA databases. It is much more complicated to get accurate info for packaged or processed foods, especially because the ingredients in a processed food interact with each other and change the nutrition profile of a product.
Here is a table with some sample scores. The highest score is 1000, the lowest is close to zero.
This is a very interesting table, especially if one compares it to NuVal ranking which goes from 1-100. Take a look at these 4 healthy products and their scores:
- Kale – 1000
- Orange – 109
- Whole wheat bread – 25
- Olive oil – 9
A naive shopper may be led to believe that kale is the only product worth consuming. But all 4 of the aforementioned are healthy and needed by our bodies. Dr. Fuhrman addresses this:
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.
So wouldn’t it be more practical to create a scoring system that doesn’t require people to analyze a score , the product type, the required nutrients and then decide? The entire point is to simplify life for consumers, not complicate it!
Whole Foods is perceived as a healthier, albeit expensive, grocery retailer. But recently John Mackey, WFM CEO and founder, openly admitted that his chain sells lots of junk food. The Health Starts Here program may be a signal that Mackey is returning to the roots of what WFM stood for in the 1970s when just starting out.
What to do at the supermarket:
Don’t let the Whole Foods health halo confuse you, as organic junk food is still junk food. Stick to the less processed products, of which Whole Foods has copious amounts, including in bulk (cheaper).
My conclusion is if you plan on using the ANDI score rating system, definitely educate yourself better on what the scores mean and how foods that you regard as healthy may score low (but still should be eaten in moderation). Don’t go around shopping letting these numbers written on signs all over the store dictate what you buy and eat. I’ve always ascribed to a diet rich in vegetables, a moderate amount of fruit (but not too much, as fruit is higher in sugars) (and at 60% of your fruits and vegetables should be eaten raw to maximize nutrient density and enzymatic properties), EFAs from nuts, seeds, oils, & non-farmed or endangered fish, and complex carbohydrates (best is sprouted) in conjunction with as much physical activity and clean water drinking as possible.
The Whole Foods ANDI chart for greens (the grocery store has separate charts for other vegetables, fruit, and beans).