The Environmental Working Group (EWG), the same organization that releases The Dirty Dozen every year and evaluates skin-care products for toxicity just came out with one of the most comprehensive online food databases, called Food Scores.
The guide, comprised of more than 80,000 products by 1,500 brands, rates products on a scale of 1 to 10 (1 being the best) based on three factors—nutrition, ingredients, and how they’re processed.
“The reason we did this was simple, more and more Americans are concerned about what might be in their food,” said Ken Cook, co-founder and president of the EWG, in a conference call. “Secondly, a sense that we have, which we think is shared by many Americans, is that we can’t really trust food companies,” he says.
While it’s great to scan the nutrition label of your favorite yogurt or oatmeal and know how to look for some nasty things—like added sugars or soy protein isolate—the EWG also takes pesticides, food additives, contaminants, antibiotics, and how food is actually processed into account, not just the information explicitly stated on the label.
It’s important to note, though, that the EWG weights “nutrition” (like calories per serving and added sugars) much more heavily than “ingredient concerns,” like whether or not a product is organic and/or GMO-free.
So depending on your priorities when eating clean, you may have to still do some due diligence. Fage 2 percent Greek yogurt, for example, has a total score of 4.5—the same as a USDA-certified organic Stonyfield yogurt—even though “Antibiotics were likely used in production of the dairy ingredients.” Why? It has higher protein and lower sugar than the Stonyfield, and those scores count for more in the rating system. And some products that are made primarily with the most-pesticide-laden ingredients (classified on the EWG’s Dirty Dozen list), like this non-organic apple sauce, still end up with high scores.
As for where the organization gets most of its data, it comes from the food companies themselves and EWG then uses that information, along with their own research, to agree on a score.
And for it to make a difference when you’re actually reading labels, there’s a Food Scores app for perusing and scanning while in the grocery aisle.
Hey, the more tools available for helping consumers figure out what they’re eating—and how to do it in a healthier way—the better.—Molly Gallagher
For more information, visit www.ewg.org/foodscores