When Consumers Use the Nutrient Rich Foods Index, Better Choices are Made, Study Finds

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. — With the obesity epidemic impacting American health care, a new study led by Karen Glanz, Ph.D., M.P.H., at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine and the School of Nursing, researchers at RTI International, and the Nutrient Rich Foods Coalition found that educating consumers to use the Nutrient Rich Foods approach to eating is an effective means of promoting healthful shopping and eating patterns, and improving diet quality.

The study, published in the January issue of the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (formerly known as the Journal of the American Dietetic Association), found that among consumers who participated in innovative, positive nutrition education designed to help them identify and choose more nutrient-rich foods, overall diet quality improved, total fat and saturated fat decreased, and consumption of healthful foods increased. Additionally, consumers participating in the new program significantly increased their meal planning and their ability to select nutritious foods.

The Nutrient Rich Foods approach to eating recommends choosing nutrient-rich foods from all food groups to build healthier meals and dietary patterns. Foods and beverages were ranked using the NRF Index, a nutrient profiling metric that scores foods based on their nutrient density or their content of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients per kilocalorie. 

"Educating consumers about nutrient richness is a simple method to help consumers identify and choose foods that contribute to overall healthful eating patterns," said James Hersey, Ph.D., a senior scientist at RTI International and one of the study's authors. "This study shows that when consumers are armed with useful information about nutrient content in a useable format, they make smarter choices. Those smarter choices lead to better diets and healthier lives."

For the study, the researchers conducted a randomized controlled trial of almost 200 adult food shoppers from February to May 2009, with participants randomly assigned to receive either education on the Nutrient Rich Foods approach or standard nutrition education.

The independent evaluation was funded by the Nutrient Rich Foods Coalition, a partnership that brings together leading scientific researchers, communications experts, and agricultural commodity organizations.

Highlights

  • A new study found that the Nutrient Rich Foods approach to eating is effective at promoting healthy shopping and eating
  • The approach recommends building healthy meals by including nutrient-rich foods from all food groups
  • Study participants using the approach improved their diets, chose healthier foods and ate less fat
  • The study was conducted by the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine and the School of Nursing, RTI International and the Nutrient Rich Foods Coalition