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Back to Symposium 2009

Defining Healthy Food: the Nutrient-Rich Foods Index

Adam Drewnowski Adam Drewnowski, PhD

Professor, Epidemiology; Director, Center for Public Health Nutrition and Nutritional Sciences Program, University of Washington

The Nutrient-Rich Foods (NRF) Index—a science-based, consumer-driven system of food guidance—enables people to build and enjoy healthier diets by getting the most nutrition from their calories. The NRF Index is founded on nutrient profiling, the science of ranking and/or classifying foods based on their nutrient composition. Each food is assigned a unitary score that best reflects its nutrient quality. High scoring foods are high in nutrients and low in calories. Nutrient profiling criteria must be:

  • Objective: based on accepted nutrition science and labeling practices
  • Simple: based on published daily values and meaningful amounts of food
  • Balanced: based on nutrients to encourage and on nutrients to limit
  • Validated: against measures of a healthful diet
  • Transparent: based on published algorithms and open-source data; and
  • Consumer-driven: likely to guide better food choices and more healthful diets.

Unlike standard food counseling that advises on food elements to avoid, a positive approach to nutrition education encourages beneficial nutrients. Our studies indicate that NRF indices based on both nutrients to encourage (NRF) and to limit (LIM) perform better than those based on LIM only. That is, higher NRF 9.3* scores connote healthier diets, while lower LIM scores do not. NRF 9.3 is a scientifically valid definition of the nutrient density of foods that meets the criteria for nutrition profiling and will help consumers build healthier diets. The Nutrient- Rich Foods approach can help people to consume healthier diets—and, ultimately, help achieve better health—by getting the most nutrition from their calories.

* In NRF 9.3, the number nine represents the beneficial nutrients protein, fiber, calcium, vitamins A, C, and E, iron, potassium, and magnesium while the three represents the LIMs total fats, sugar and sodium.

Other Presentation Summaries

  • G. Harvey Anderson, PhD

    Professor, Departments of Nutritional Sciences and Physiology; Director, Program in Food Safety, Nutrition and Regulatory Affairs, University of Toronto

  • Heidi Bates, BSc., RD

    Consulting dietitian, Tri-Nutrition Consulting; Instructor, Northern Alberta Institute of Technology; Director, Integrated Dietetic Internship, Department of Agriculture, Food and Nutritional Sciences, University of Alberta

  • Alejandro R. Jadad, MD, DPhil, FRCPC, FCAHS

    Chief Innovator and Founder, Centre for Global eHealth Innovation; Canada Research Chair in eHealth Innovation; Rose Family Chair in Supportive Care; Professor, Departments of Health Policy, Management and Evaluation, and Anesthesia; Dalla Lana School of Public Health, University Health Network and University of Toronto

  • Isabelle Neiderer, RD

    Director of Nutrition
    Dairy Farmers of Canada

  • Leslie Beck, RD

    Director of Nutrition, Medcan Clinic
    Weekly columnist, The Globe and Mail
    Nutrition expert, CTV Canada AM, CFRB Toronto radio and CJAD Montreal radio

  • Mary Sue Waisman, MSc, PDt, FDC

    Dietitian, Professional Chef, Nutrition Consultant and Cookbook Author: ALL ABOUT FOOD Nutrition Consulting, Halifax, Nova Scotia

  • Nathalie Jobin, PhD, RD

    Director, Nutrition and Scientific Affairs
    Nutrium, University of Montreal


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