Published: September 2022

Journal: Nutrients

Authors: Gombi-Vaca MF, Xu R, Schwartz M, Battista Hesse M, Martin K, Caspi CE

See more related research


In 2020, charitable food organizations began adopting Healthy Eating Research (HER) nutrition guidelines, which rank individual foods in tiers (e.g., green, yellow, or red) based on each food’s nutrient profile. This study aimed to validate this HER tier-ranked system against the Healthy Eating Index-2015 (HEI) and develop a formula to summarize the percentages of tier-ranked foods in an overall nutritional quality index that correlated with HEI. Using secondary data of foods selected by clients in 16 Minnesota food pantries (n = 503 “client carts”), we generated an HEI score and percentages of green, yellow, and red foods for each cart. As validation, we tested the association between HEI scores and the percentages of tier-ranked foods and compared the means of the tier-ranked variables using quintiles of the HEI scores. HEI scores were positively associated with percentages of green foods and negatively associated with percentages of red foods. Next, we used statistical learning to generate weights to maximize the correlation of the tier-ranked variables and the HEI scores and used these weights to create an index. The index demonstrated a moderate-to-strong correlation with HEI and can be used as a single measure to summarize the overall nutritional quality for sets of tier-ranked foods.

Related Research

January 2024

Food Insecurity and the Child Tax Credit

Food insecurity puts people at risk for many poor physical and mental health outcomes. Food insecurity stayed stable during much of the COVID-19 pandemic but rose significantly from 2021-2022 among U.S. households with children. Many federal supports were offered during the COVID-19 pandemic. These included expansions in food assistance programs like SNAP, as well as More

November 2023

Evaluating the impact of state-level economic-support policies on the nutritional health of kids and families

To address ongoing concerns of child poverty across the United States, states have introduced and modified family economic security policies related to the state minimum wage (MW) and state earned income tax credit (EITC). While poor nutritional health disproportionately impacts children who experience poverty, few studies have examined the potentially beneficial effects of state-level MW More

November 2023

Understanding the social safety net’s impact on food security to inform policy on how best to support children in low-income families

By providing resources to low-income families with children, the safety net has the potential to reduce food insecurity and improve nutrition. Understanding how much, how, and for whom the safety net impacts food security is a critical input into active policy discussions about the best way to support children in low-income families. The project will More