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

March 2023

The Charitable Food System as a Change Agent

The U.S. charitable food system can play a role in addressing social determinants of health because of its expansive reach and community connections. The article highlights (a) strategies to prioritize access to nutritious food and provide a dignified experience; (b) examples of how food pantries can be a portal to federal benefits, health care, and other More

February 2023

Evaluation of U.S. Department of Agriculture Foods Programs for Households Using Nutrition Guidelines for the Charitable Food System

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 More

July 2022

COVID-19 relief measures and food insecurity among low-wage worker families

During the COVID-19 pandemic, record numbers of households, including nearly 14 million children, reported not having enough to eat. In response, the federal government enacted a set of far-reaching relief measures, expanding both USDA nutrition assistance programs as well as other economic safety net measures. Within a sample of low-wage workers with children, this research More