Whole Foods and the ANDI Scoring System
Whole Foods and the Health Starts Here Initiative
Earlier this year Whole Foods Market launched a program called Health Starts Here. The program spawned in response to the fact that the United States spends an estimated $2 trillion annually on healthcare expenses, more than any other industrialized country, and has the highest obesity rate in the World. The average American eats a low nutrient, highly processed diet (think white bread and bologna, or fries and Coke, Mountain Dew and cigarettes) that can be linked to obesity, disease and ridiculous health care costs.
The idea is that obesity, the need for pharmaceuticals and many diseases can be prevented and bypassed (no pun intended) through healthy eating. The pillars of Health Starts Here are: a plant based diet; whole foods (not the store itself, we're talking about unprocessed and unrefined foods); nutrient rich foods; and low fat foods (or the right fat, less from meat and dairy and more from plants)
As a part of this initiative, WFM started putting numbers on all of their foods called an ANDI score. If you shop at Whole Foods or are thinking about changing to a healthier diet, you may be wondering what the ANDI score actually means to you, the health-conscious consumer.
Aggregate Nutrient Density Index
Ok, so I gave it away in the subtitle, but what does Aggregate Nutrient Density Index really mean? As the name suggests, ANDI is a scale measuring the amount of nutrients a certain food is packing per calorie. Adopted from Dr. Joel Fuhrman's Eat For Health book, there is a formula behind the numbers. Health equals Nutrients divided by Calories, or H=N/C. Fuhrman is the Chief Medical Officer of Eat Right America a "proven and delicious lifestyle choice designed to properly nourish your body for permanent weight loss and superior health." Their website offers a personalized "nutrition prescription" that costs about $15 and a more detailed description of how ANDI scores are calculated. For more information visit them at www.eatrightamerica.com.
Here are the nutrients that are calculated into Dr. Fuhrman's scoring system, from eatrightamerica.com:
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).
Here's how the nutrients were calculated, also from Dr. Fuhrman's website:
Nutrient quantities, which are normally in many different measurements (mg, mcg, IU) were converted to a percentage of their RDI (recommended daily intake) so that a common value could be considered for each nutrient. Since there is currently no RDI for Carotenoids, Glucosinolates, or ORAC score, goals were established based on available research and current understanding of the benefits of these factors. The % RDI or Goal for each nutrient which the USDA publishes a value for was added together to give a total. All nutrients were weighted equally with a factor of one except for the food's ORAC score. The ORAC score was given a factor 2 (as if it were two nutrients) due to the importance of antioxidant nutrients, so that measurement of unnamed anti-oxidant phytochemicals were represented in the scoring. The sum of the food’s total nutrient value was then multiplied by a fraction to make the highest number equal 1000 so that all foods could be considered on a numerical scale of 1 to 1000.
The most nutrient dense foods are leafy greens such as Kale, Collards, Mustard Greens and Watercress; all tipping the scales at 1000, the highest ranking possible in the ANDI system. Here are some scores of common foods.
Be Well Balanced
It may be tempting, from looking at this chart, to think that you can just eat kale and collards all day long and become super-healthy. It may work for a little while if you are trying to lose a lot of weight, but if you are active at all you need to keep your diet balanced in relation to the ANDI scores. Eating as many servings of leafy greens you feel like in a day is not a bad idea, but keep in mind, ANDIs are calculated by dividing nutrients by calories. The veggies with the top scores do have a lot of nutrients, but they are also very low in calories, protein and fat- essential elements that our bodies need to keep functioning properly. It is a good idea however, to get your calories, protein and fat from foods that are grown and not manufactured. If it comes in a package and doesn't grow from the ground, graze sparingly. Avocados, nuts and beans are all good sources of natural fats and oils, and they have higher calories than leafy greens to keep you going throughout the day.
The ANDI scores and Eat Right America are a response to an American diet which is based in consumption of copious amounts of carbohydrates, protein and fat. These guidelines are meant to flip the script, so to speak, and show that by basing a diet in natural foods that are high in the nutrients listed above, you will feel better and maintain a healthy weight. Ultimately it comes down to the individual. You will know what agrees with your body and what just doesn't work. Remember to stay balanced when choosing foods, not being too extreme in either caloric direction, and eat those veggies!