From Candy to Kale, New “Food Compass” Study Shows Plant-Based Foods Reign Nutritionally Supreme

From Candy to Kale, New “Food Compass” Study Shows Plant-Based Foods Reign Nutritionally Supreme

A study released by a Bill Gates-backed nutrition researcher is ruffling feathers by comparing meat and other animal products to items sometimes considered junk food, highlighting just how harmful animal-based food items can be to both the human body and cruel to the animals who lose their lives to stock grocery store shelves.

Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian, who is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, is a cardiologist, dean at the Tufts University Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, and task force co-chair to the White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health. To add to his accolades, Dr. Mozaffarian and Tufts University released a 100-page study called the Food Compass where food items are assessed for healthfulness on a nutrient profiling algorithm across nine nutritional domains and 54 attributes and are then given a Food Compass Score (FCS) from a low of 1 to a high of 100. Of these numeric rankings, foods, and beverages with an FCS of 70 or greater were determined to be within a good nutritional range to encourage consumption, whereas scores of 31 to 69 should be consumed in moderation, and any items with an FCS of 30 or below should be avoided.

Within 12 major food groups identified in the study among 8,032 unique food and beverages consumed by U.S. adults, a nutritional category of legumes, nuts, and seeds, which included 264 unique food items, the mean FCS awarded was 81.6 - the highest mean score of all 12 major groups - and falls into the most beneficial nutrient score range. The category containing meat, poultry, and eggs had a mean FCS, out of 763 unique items, of 34.1, barely avoiding categorization as food that should be avoided.

When assigning scores to individual foods, not a single animal-based product - such as eggs or meat, but excluding fish and shellfish - received an FCS over 75, with “egg substitute, omelet, scrambled, or fried, with vegetables, fat added in cooking” taking the top spot; at the very bottom of the list, all receiving FCS scores of 1, were meat and poultry hotdogs, beef and blood sausages, cured meats, and canned ham or pork luncheon meat. Plain Fritos corn chips, commonly regarded as junk food but plant-based, received an FCS of 49, beating out the average score of meat, poultry, and eggs by 14.9 nutritional points. Similarly, M&M’s chocolate almond candies received an FCS score of 40, out-scoring the majority of meat and egg products.

If you’re looking to incorporate more of the highest-scoring food items into your diet, it’s no surprise that fruits and non-starchy veggies will be your suggested go-tos. Raw blackberries, cranberries, raspberries, citrus, strawberries, and tangerines all netted FCS scores of 100; even fried bananas got a score of 73. The list of veggies with FCS scores of 100 was even longer than that of fruit, with cooked and raw collards, kale, spinach, broccoli, carrots, pumpkin, and tomato just making a dent in the top of the list. Avocado scored up to its hype with an FCS of 100 as well.

When evaluating full meals, tofu with veggies was a nutritional favorite with an FCS of 88, while pastrami sandwiches, corned beef, egg and sausage bagels, and corn dogs all came in dead last with FCS scores of 1.

If you're craving something warm, you might want to stay away from hot cocoa made from a powdered mix and water, which was scored at an FCS of 19, and opt instead for a mug of unsweetened chocolate almond milk coming in at an FCS of 91.

According to the project, the Food Compass study is intended to help people meet their dietary goals and make the best nutritional choices possible based on the best science available. FCS scores are meant to be used across special diets, live vegan or vegetarian, to allow consumers to explore healthful options and limit others that provide lower-quality nutrition.

Even if you put the latest and most convincing meat or dairy substitute aside, the number of unprocessed foods that received FCS scores of 70 or better was vast, and a majority of them were all plant-based, vegan items.

In 2020, 9.76 billion land animals were slaughtered in the U.S. for consumption, including - in order of most animals slaughtered to least - chickens, turkeys, cattle (including calves), pigs, ducks, and sheep (including lambs).

The Food Compass study shows that, collectively, meat, dairy, and egg products rank significantly lower on healthfulness and nutrition than plant-based items do. Making the choice to transition to a vegan or plant-based diet and lifestyle is one of the most immediate ways that you can personally make a change in the lives of farmed animals. You can download our free vegan starter guide to learn more about compassionate eating. While you’re at it, take a look at this cheat sheet with just some of the many incredible vegan food products that will help make your transition to veganism more delicious; they may not all get FCS scores of 100 but they will start you on a path to cruelty-free nutrition.

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