Published: February 2023

Journal: Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics

Authors: Gombia-Vaca MF, Schwartz MB

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U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Foods programs for households are designed to provide nutritious foods at no cost to income-eligible individuals in the United States. Our aim was to evaluate the nutritional quality of the foods available from 3 USDA Foods programs for households (ie, The Emergency Food Assistance Program, Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations, and Commodity Supplemental Food Program) according to the Healthy Eating Research (HER) Guidelines for the Charitable Food System. Review of the nutritional information of the foods available from USDA Foods programs for households was performed. Using the HER Guidelines, foods were categorized into a 3-tiered system (ie, choose often/green; choose sometimes/yellow; choose rarely/red) based on levels of saturated fat, sodium, and added sugar per serving, and presence of whole grains. All unique foods available from The Emergency Food Assistance Program, Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations, and Commodity Supplemental Food Program (n = 152) for fiscal year 2022 were evaluated. The majority of USDA Foods were ranked green (57.3%) or yellow (35.5%). A small number of items were ranked red (3.3%) or were unranked condiments or cooking staples (3.9%). The USDA Foods available in the household programs were primarily fruits and vegetables; lean proteins; whole grains; and low-fat dairy products that were consistent with national dietary guidelines. There is some room for improvement, and adjustments in the specifications for certain items are recommended to strengthen the nutritional value of the foods provided through these important federal programs.

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