Published: September 2022

Journal: Nutrients

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

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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.

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