EWG Saves the Day – Again

We already rely on the Environmental Working Group‘s database “Skin Deep” to help us identify which cosmetics and toiletries are the safest and which ones put our health at risk. Now the saviors at EWG have developed another database – and app to go with it – to do the same for our food. With over 80,000 products logged, and scan-ability with a smartphone, Food Scores allows consumers to identify the best – and worst – foods on store shelves.

Remember how we talked about labels? Namely, how the food industry has used public concern for dietary health to its advantage? To summarize, the increasing demand for healthy foods has led large agribusinesses to use words like “all natural,” “organic,” “gluten-free,” and “dairy-free,” – as well as other ad tactics like green or blue packaging with pictures of farms, leaves, and other images of nature – to market their non-junk food products. While these labels may be true, they don’t account for the artificial substitutes used to replace what gluten, dairy, hormones, and preservatives contribute to food production. These other ingredients, sketchily labeled as “natural sweeteners,” “natural flavor,” and my personal favorite, “other flavors,” usually contain corn starch (possibly the biggest villain in the saga of agriculture destroying our environment, economy, and health) and chemicals linked to serious diseases and illnesses.

With Food Scores, the EWG has collected information on all the ingredients in the most popular products. Like Skin Deep, the foods receive an overall score from 1-10, this time based on ratings in the categories of Nutrition Concern, Ingredient Concern, and Processing Concern. Each score comes with an explanation backed by an accredited scientific source. It’s amazing how, even when we try so hard to do our bodies good, it’s a daily struggle to find the right food. For example, I recently was told by my doctor that I need to cut dairy out of my diet. I’m also watching my weight, trying to eat vegan when possible, avoiding soy, and opting for organic when the food is not local and is processed. So at my trusted health food grocer I bought Almond Dream Low Fat Vanilla Yogurt. It fit all of my standards (although a little high in calories and sugar) and the way it was marketed made it look like a healthy, smart option. But Food Score put it in the yellow:

almond dream score

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Without Food Score I likely would have continued to purchase this product. But in using the app I found out that much of the ingredients are sourced from corn – again, an ingredient that is best to avoid – and that the chemicals used to turn almond milk into a yogurt include those linked to heart and kidney failure. Yikes! Food Score links all of these findings to research backing it up. Even better, it reveals a graph of how the yogurt compares to other vanilla yogurt on the market, and then allows me to choose ones with better ratings instead.

almond dream score3

This app is amazing and I highly recommend you download it before your next trip to the market. It’s exactly what we’ve been talking about lately, how food origin is more important than price or taste; you can have the best of all three but they must be prioritized correctly. With Food Scores I definitely feel better about my food choices. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go clean out my fridge…

Allison Beauregard

Allison is a New York City based writer with a focus on sustainability. Her work demonstrates how it is possible to have the “things” that make us happy without compromising the resources that provide these goods. With this vision, Allison sees a future where environmental degradation is reversed and the quality of human life is equally distributed. She is the Category Editor of The Franklin Report and was among the top 5 contributors for Elephant Journal in October 2014.

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