Rating systems that quickly sum-up a given food’s nutritional value are supposed to make it easier for you to make healthy choices.
Often, they don’t.
Instead, the mysterious acronyms add yet another element to the millions of considerations you’re already making as you fill your basket at Trader Joe’s.
We turned to Dana James, a triple board certified New York nutritionist, to help us make sense of the commonly touted nutrition score called ANDI. Here’s what you need to know about it.
What it stands for: Aggregate Nutrient Density Index (ANDI)
What it is: Developed by star nutrition researcher and physician Dr. Joel Fuhrman, ANDI scores (from 1 to 1,000) measure the total nutrient density of a food, including vitamins, minerals, and antioxidant capacity. Whole Foods posts them in some stores.
Pros: The ANDI scale takes into account lots of nutrients. “It’s the most comprehensive nutrient assessment score I’ve seen,” says James. And it rates nutrient density by calorie, rather than quantity, of food—so it correctly skews towards vegetables.
For example, if you compared the nutrients in a cup of kale to a cup of lentils, you may choose lentils. But the snapshot would be inaccurate, because lentils have almost 20 times the calories of kale. The ANDI scores? Kale at 1,000, lentils 104.
Cons: Some foods that your body may need in moderation, like healthy fats, score very low (olive oil gets a 9), meaning you’ll still have to do some homework rather than just sticking to foods with high scores.
The takeaway: In the end, says James, it’s important to understand the ratings, but don’t let them dictate your diet.
“If you want to eat for your optimal level of wellness, eat vegetables, a small amount of fruit, oily fish, and complex carbohydrates based on your activity level,” says James. “Don’t worry about the measurements (or calories for that matter)—and use that brain capacity for something more liberating.”
Like creating another delicious kale salad recipe. —Lisa Elaine Held
Confused about other weird nutritional acronyms? Here, Dana James explains what ORAC scores are.