The Aggregate Nutrient Density Index - Nutrition Week


Nutrition labeling of products by American food manufacturers was mandated by the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act of 1990. The development of the Aggregate Nutrient Density Index by Dr. Joel Furhman seeks to derive a more substantive classification of products based on their ‘nutrient density’ and thus, simplified labeling. Photo by The Consumerist.

In the past decade, our nation has shown tremendous growth in health-consciousness, and with good reason. Currently, about 30% of the American population is obese, and that number is projected to rise to a bewildering 83% by the year 2020. In response to such disquieting statistics, policy makers have been cracking down on manufacturers and fast food establishments. It feels like only yesterday that you could indulge a Nachos Bell Grande with only a stifled inkling of the grim physical consequences. That age of blissful ignorance is history, thanks to Obama’s Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010, which will require retail food establishments with upwards of 20 locations to print calorie content on their menus.

Counting calories, avoiding fatty foods, or otherwise dieting isn’t enough to restore ourselves back to health according to a new food ranking system developed by Dr. Joel Fuhrman, nutritional medicine expert and author. His Aggregate Nutrient Density Index (ANDI) measures foods by their ratio of nutrients to calories on a 0-1000 scale. For example, the chart gives kale a 1000 rating, while soda comes in at a shocking 1. The nutrients measured include essential vitamins and minerals, as well as phytochemicals, which are promoted for preventing health conditions like cancer, diabetes, and heart disease. There are thousands of these plant-based protective compounds that scientists have yet to name and measure, but foods that are high in the known nutrients are also high in those unknown.

Fuhrman notes that eating only the foods with the highest nutrition density does not equate to good health, because doing so would result in a diet too low in fat. A healthy diet is achieved by eating a combination of foods with high nutrition density and foods with healthier fats. The ANDI has been adopted by Whole Foods as part of their Health Starts Here initiative, as well as Eat Right America, a website offering health articles, recipes, and Nutrition Prescription, a personalized nutrition plan based on answers to questions.

As a neurotic person, I’m obsessively cautious about the things I put into my body, but I decided to try the Nutrition Prescription to see if it might be helpful to the average individual. A 10-minute online survey begins by asking about your goals: whether you want to lose weight, increase vitality, live longer, or simply feel better about yourself, and what time frame, in months, in which you’d like to see results. It goes on to inquire about what medicines or vitamins you take regularly, your body measurements, age, ethnicity, and blood test scores. The questions about what foods you eat per week are surprisingly detailed, and asks what weekly 3-ounce portions you consume of everything from chili to spam, from full-fat or lo-fat dairy products. The personalized booklet given is a compilation of statistics about your diet, and facts about nutrient-rich foods. You are provided with a pie chart of your diet in comparison to the diet of the standard American, which can make you feel pretty good about yourself if you aren’t eating value meals everyday. You can also see what illnesses you may be at risk for based on your responses, which can make you feel not so good (I’m apparently at high risk for osteoporosis).

While the statistical data and nutrient information could have been found independently of the program and its $20 fee, it gives a more in-depth breakdown of foods and their ANDI scores, and gives a 28-day meal plan. The program also provides a convenient automatic spreadsheet to input what foods you’ve eaten, and see what you’re still missing. The Nutrition Prescription is definitely beneficial for people new to the idea of eating whole and nutrient-rich foods, but probably isn’t worth the money for the moderately health-conscious individual.

Fuhrman’s nutrients-over-calories equation suggests that our society is in dire need of a change in our eating philosophy; we must take the steps to learn how nutrients, and the lack thereof, affects our bodies, and why we should eat a variety of healthy, whole foods instead of seeking easy fixes from ‘fat-free’ or ‘carb smart’ diets. Simply revising laws about food labels, or prohibiting fast food chains from marketing to children, won’t be enough to deter us from our impending obese fate.