RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. — Researchers with RTI International have developed a new algorithm that gives food products an overall nutrition score. The algorithm has been published in the December issue of the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and ranks foods based on a continuous numerical score, with higher points identifying healthier foods.

The algorithm is unique, according to the researchers, because it incorporates unsaturated fat based on the suggestion in the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans that consumers should replace saturated fatty acids with polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fatty acids. In addition, the researchers said an advantage to the RTI algorithm is it may easily be used to score the nutritional quality of overall diets as well as individual foods.

“Our goal was to develop a nutrient profiling algorithm that was evidence based and included the latest dietary recommendations,” said Joanne Arsenault, Ph.D., a nutrition policy analyst at RTI and the study’s lead author. “This research will be useful for developing point-of-purchase nutrition labeling systems, educating consumers, and assessing overall dietary quality.”

Some nutrient profiling systems currently being used weigh nutrients equally. The RTI algorithm uses a statistical regression approach of nutrient intakes of 16,500 participants from the 2005-2008 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey to predict overall dietary quality as measured by the Healthy Eating Index. The algorithm included positive weighting factors for protein, unsaturated fat, fiber, calcium, and vitamin C, and negative weighting factors for saturated fat, sodium, and added sugars.

The research was funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.