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It would be hard to think of a new dimension the nutrition navigation system idea, various versions of which are currently being employed by retailers, CPG companies, private label product vendors and others, but a new initiative has done just that: The Affordable Nutrition Index (ANI), a food-rating program that analyzes both nutrition and cost value of food, made its official debut yesterday at the American Dietetic Association’s Food and Nutrition Conference and Expo in Denver.
According to Adam Drewnowski, director of the Center for Public Health Nutrition at the University of Washington in Seattle and a developer of the index, the ANI is the first and only tool to assess food’s nutritional profile and cost value to create a nutrition-value-per-dollar score.
Guided by recommendations in the U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the ANI calculates a food score based on nine essential nutrients to encourage (protein, fiber, iron, calcium, potassium, magnesium, and vitamins A, C and E) and three nutrients to limit (saturated fat, added sugars and sodium).
The study assessed almost 300 commonly eaten foods such as fresh vegetables, fruits, grains from an independent food intake frequency questionnaire, and various convenience foods. Results showed that dark-colored vegetables (carrots, sweet potatoes, broccoli), certain fruits (oranges, bananas, berries, grapes and apples) and vegetable soups (Campbell’s lower-sodium prepared soups) were among the most affordable, nutritious foods.
“In today’s economy, more people are making food choices based solely on cost, so it’s important to guide them on ways to get nutritious options without hurting their wallets,” noted Drewnowski. “It is important to identify a wide range of affordable, nutritious choices that can help people build a balanced diet that fits their lifestyle and budget.”
The research found that food, nutrition and price are usually considered independently, while Drewnowski believes that health experts and the government should promote a more inclusive concept of nutrition-per-dollar, since it more accurately reflects the way people actually choose food. He said that he hoped the next Dietary Guidelines, due next year, would “include the importance of affordable nutrition in its recommendations.”
The ANI incorporates the nutrient density of individual foods and beverages as gauged by the previously validated Nutrient Rich Foods Index (NRFI), also developed by Drewnowski (See Progressive Grocer’s September 2009 Center Store Trend Alert article on the NRFI here). It combines the NRFI with price data from the Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion (CNPP) 2001-2002 database, a 2008 survey of Seattle supermarkets and soup prices from Campbell Soup Co., which also supported this research by Drewnowski at the University of Washington. All foods were graphed on the index to assess their nutritional benefits and cost, with higher index scores denoting greater nutritional value for the dollar.