Nutrition Unscrambled

Whole Foods nutrient-profiling system

By Marcia Greenblum, MS, RD
January 21st, 2011

Last week, the AP posted an article detailing some changes Whole Foods will be making this year to emphasize health in their stores. The article, Whole Foods makes changes to emphasize health, indicates that they will be posting nutritional scorecards around the markets to help consumers with their food purchase decisions.

On the surface a healthy food score seems like a great help for the hurried and health concerned shopper. The problem is that foods are not inherently healthy but should be put together in a meal to supply most of the individual’s nutrient needs. From the point of view of selling products, foods can be made healthier if they contain more beneficial nutrients and less of the nutrients most people in the US consume in excess which is associated with increased disease risk. What doesn’t connect is the use of food rating systems based on population health risk statistics applied to an individual’s health. For example, I happen to have low blood pressure, a family inheritance. Sodium may not be a nutrient of concern for my personal health. However, a supermarket score includes negative and positive factors relating to population health can mislead me into thinking that my personal health would be improved by consuming a low sodium product. In this case, I may avoid cheese when in fact, I may benefit from the calcium in cheese. This is especially true for another nutrient rich food like an egg. No one disputes that egg protein is one of the highest quality proteins of any food. However, recent research findings indicate that there are hyper-responders and hypo-responders to dietary cholesterol. Hypo-responders (2/3 the population) don’t have any serum cholesterol response when they consume eggs. The hyper-responders (1/3 the population) do appear to have some small elevation of their serum cholesterol however, not enough to significantly increase health disease risk. So, should we all avoid the nutrient benefits of an egg because some members of the population see an increase in their serum cholesterol levels? Wouldn’t my health suffer by missing out on the high quality protein in an egg? In the Whole Foods scoring system eggs receive (27 out of 1000) in relation to egg whites (29 out of 1000) and egg substitute (30 out of 1000). In fact, there are many more nutrients which are needed for proper functioning of our bodies in the whole egg than if we extract the egg yolk and simply eat the egg white or egg substitute.

The fact is we all do need to eat, and eating a balance of nutrients from all foods in a moderate amount is healthy. Do food ratings based on a public health statistical advantage really relate to an individual’s health? And, by depriving yourself of the other nutrients that may also be needed and are found in the lower scoring foods are you really doing yourself good? (By the way, do we know what nutrients the Whole Foods experts consider healthy or unhealthy? What health outcomes do they use to decide how healthy a food is?)

A better way to approach meal planning is to seek balance and concentrate on the positive. Enjoy eating foods that have the most nutrients known to be needed by our bodies. Try to include members of all food groups in every meal and enjoy new foods and combinations of foods regularly but in a moderate portion size. For those who do want a guide for selecting the most nutrient rich foods I recommend The Nutrient Rich Foods Coalition profiling system:

Nutrition profiling of foods is defined as the science of ranking or classifying foods based on their nutrient composition5. Adam Drewnowski, PhD of the University of Washington, and Victor Fulgoni, PhD of Nutrition Impact, LLC, defined six guiding principles to develop and evaluate nutrient profiling systems, based on their work published in Nutrition Reviews 5. The principles include:

  1. Objective: Based on accepted nutrition science and labeling practices.
  2. Simple: Based on published daily values and meaningful amounts of food.
  3. Balanced: Based on nutrients to encourage and nutrients to limit.
  4. Validated: Tested against an objective measure of a healthful diet.
  5. Transparent: Based on published formulas and open-source data.
  6. Consumer-driven: Based on consumer research to help guide better food choices and help people build more healthful diets.

Published Research Review the extensive scientific research studies and reports in support of the Nutrient Rich Foods approach and have been published in peer-reviewed journals. You can view videos and presentations from experts who support the Nutrient Rich Foods approach and participated in the 2008 Nutrient Rich Foods Coalition Scientific Forum and the 2009 “Achieve Better Health with Nutrient Rich Foods Symposium”


Nutrition Unscrambled  is written by nutrition experts with the Egg Nutrition Center, which is funded by the American Egg Board. It is monitored and maintained by the public relations agency of record. The mission of the Egg Nutrition Center is to be a credible source of nutrition and health science information and the acknowledged leader in research and education related to eggs. For more information, click here.

About the Bloggers

Mitch Kanter, Ph.D. is the Executive Director of the Egg Nutrition Center. For more information about
Mitch, click here.
Marcia Greenblum, MS, RD is the Senior Director, Nutrition Education at the Egg Nutrition Center. For more information about Marcia, click here.
Anna Shlachter, MS, RD, LDN is the Program Manager, Nutrition Research and Communications at the Egg Nutrition Center. For more information about Anna, click here.

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All information provided within this blog is for informational and educational purposes only and it is not to be construed as medical advice or instruction. Please consult your physician or a qualified health professional on any matters regarding your health or before making changes to your diet or health behaviors.