Rating Distribution

Scoring Food Products


GoodGuide’s Health ratings for food products are based on four attributes:

  • the nutritional value of the food, as characterized by a standard method of nutrient assessment called the “Ratio of Recommended to Restricted Nutrients” (RRR),
  • indicators of whether levels of specific nutrients exceed public health guidelines,
  • the presence of potentially hazardous food additives, and
  • indicators of various production practices that affect the quality of a food product.

Product-level data on environmental performance are generally unavailable for specific food products, so GoodGuide relies on company-level environmental scores to characterize the performance of a product on this dimension.  For some types of fresh produce and meat, GoodGuide provides information on the environmental impacts of that category based on life cycle assessment, but the data do not support product-level scoring.

Product-level data on social performance are generally unavailable for specific food products, so GoodGuide relies on company-level social scores to characterize the performance of a product on this dimension.

Scoring Methodology

RRR - The Ratio of Recommended to Restricted Nutrients

The RRR calculates the ratio of “good” to “bad” nutrients, essentially providing an overall picture of a food’s nutrition profile.  For most types of food, the list of recommended nutrients includes protein, calcium, iron, vitamin A, vitamin C, and fiber and the list of restricted nutrients includes calories, saturated fat, cholesterol, sugar, and sodium. For fresh fruits and vegetables, the recommended nutrients include fiber, protein, vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium and iron and the restricted nutrients include calories, saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium.  

GoodGuide calculates the RRR value for each food based on the data published on a product's nutrition fact panel.  The RRR results are then translated onto GoodGuide's standard scoring range of 0 - 10 according to the following rules:

  • Scores between 0 - 2  are reserved for products that contain no recommended nutrients. Products with no recommended nutrients are given a default score of 2, which is then adjusted downward based on the relative amount of restricted nutrients they contain.
  • Scores between 2 - 6 are reserved for products with more restricted nutrients than recommended nutrients (i.e., a calculated RRR < 1).
  • Scores between 6 - 10 are reserved for products with more recommended nutrients than restricted nutrients (i.e., a calculated RRR > 1).

This  scoring approach allows users to distinguish between products that have essentially no nutritional value (scoring below 2), products that contain more bad than good ingredients (scoring below 6), and products that are on balance good nutritionally (scoring above 6).

See the Notes section below for explanations of how food categories are rated when the RRR methodology cannot be applied (e.g., infant formula, baby foods, and bulk coffee and teas.)

Public Health Guidelines

Each food is then further analyzed to determine whether certain nutrients of public health significance (sugar, sodium, cholesterol, saturated fat, and trans fat) are present in levels that exceed recommended thresholds. Additional assessments are conducted on cold cereals to determine the quality of carbohydrates (specifically fiber and sugar) and on energy drinks to determine whether they contain excessive caffeine.  The thresholds GoodGuide uses come from a variety of authoritative sources, including the Institute of Medicine (the scientific body that provides evidence for the Dietary Guidelines for Americans) and the World Health Organization, and are applicable for a 2,000 calorie per day diet.

Potentially Hazardous Food Additives

GoodGuide lowers the score of products that include potentially hazardous food additives. Our lists of such additives come from authoritative third-party sources, including the UK Food Standards Agency and The Center for Food Safety.

Production Practices

There is mounting evidence that the benefits of any particular food go beyond just nutrient content. As a result, GoodGuide’s ratings also take into account the way a food is produced - which may be associated with health issues outside the traditional focus of nutritional evaluations. Positive score adjustments are assigned to foods that are certified organic, made without genetically modified organisms (GMO-free), or produced without the use of recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH, dairy products only). Negative score adjustments are assigned based on the use of High Fructose Corn syrup, detection of pesticide residues (fresh produce only) and the presence of added sugars or salt (baby and toddler foods only).


Baby and Toddler Food Methodology

The RRR methodology is not applied to baby and toddler foods.  These food categories are rated on an ingredient basis, which is a more suitable scoring approach that addresses the special dietary needs of infants and children aged 2-4.  Products are evaluated by the number of ingredients they contain (with more ingredients resulting in lower scores, varying by feeding stage) and the presence of unnecessary ingredients (including starch fillers, added sweeteners, added salt, and water as the primary ingredient).  These foods are also evaluated against sodium recommendations for infants and toddlers.  Finally, baby cereals not providing the recommended amount of iron (45 mg per 100 g cereal serving) receive lowered scores.

Infant Formula Methodology

The RRR methodology is not applied to infant formula.  GoodGuide's basis for rating infant formulas relies upon the Food and Drug Administration's regulations for these products. Legally, all infant formulas are required to meet nutrient levels established by the FDA. Our ratings process double checks that formulas for a product meet these 29 nutrient requirements. Products received additional credit if they are organic. No infant formula scores a  perfect ten because the pediatric medical community is in agreement that breastfeeding is best when it comes to newborn nutrition.

Bulk Coffee and Teas Methodology

The RRR methodology is also not applied to bulk coffee and tea products.  These commodities do not exhibit a consistent set of nutritional attributes -  their nutritional quality is determined primarily by whether they are combined with other foods like milk or sugar.

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