How Fooducate Grades Products

If you’ve been using the Fooducate iPhone App you may be wondering how products are graded. We’ve received inquiries on this matter from consumers, food manufacturers, and nutrition professionals.

Fooducate’s philosophy is relatively simple, but the actual algorithmic implementation is quite complex. Here is a glimpse under the hood.

Fooducate grading:  minimally processed, real foods with intrinsic nutrients will score better than processed foods that are poor in built-in nutrients.

Fooducate’s  analysis is based on information that appears on a product’s package. This includes the nutrition facts panel and the ingredient list. Fooducate does not receive any additional input from manufacturers.

The lowest grade in the system is a D, and the highest grade is an A.

Products are graded based on their nutrients, ingredients, category, and processing. We’ll explain:

Nutrients – Fooducate’s algorithms add points for nutrients to encourage such as fiber, calcium, and iron. The algorithms detract points for nutrients to limit such as saturated fat, sodium, and sugar.

Ingredients – The ingredient list is very important as it tells the story behind the nutrients. Imagine a piece of cardboard that was sprayed with 11 vitamins and minerals, then coated with “natural” flavors, peppered with an artificial sweetener, and colored with Red #40. Under some rating systems, this product would actually score very high as it is zero calories and full of nutrition.

Not at Fooducate. We look for real ingredients. Artificial colors and sweeteners detract from a product score. The use of whole foods adds points.

Category – Fooducate divides products into distinct categories, for example, breakfast cereal, yogurt, bread, fruits, etc… In each category, we look at the most relevant nutrients and ingredients and give them more weight compared to others. For example – fiber is a very important nutrient in breads and cereals, but really not to be expected in yogurt.

Some categories can span the entire range of grades from D to A. Others span a smaller range – for example fruits can rate between a B+ to an A, sweetened carbonated soft drinks from D to D+, and popcorn from a C to an A-.

Processing – products that go through heavy processing rate lower than products that you could probably prepare at home with household ingredients. For example – a snack bar with just dates and nuts will score higher than a bar with 30 ingredients, many of which are not found in peoples’ kitchens.

Fooducate’s algorithms also look for nutrients that come from REAL ingredients, and not as fortifications. For example, adding ascorbic acid (lab made vitamin C) to a product to reach 100% of the daily value of vitamin C, does not make the product “nutritious” by our algorithms. A red bell pepper that naturally contains high levels of vitamin C will rate high.

A note before we conclude. Our algorithms are constantly being evaluated and tweaked. Just as nutrition science is constantly evolving, so is our analysis. But the basic philosophy will not change – the less processed, more real a food is, the better it is for your health, and the better it rates on Fooducate.

If you think a product you scanned rated too high or too low, please let us know by emailing support at fooducate.

Some people have likened Fooducate to taking both your grandmother AND your dietitian with you to the supermarket for shopping advice. We like that.

What to do at the supermarket:

Whether you use Fooducate’s iPhone app or not, you can implement our simple philosophy in your shopping trips. Look for minimally processed foods with short and comprehendable ingredient lists. Check the nutrition facts label to see that you are not going ballistic with saturated fats, sodium, and sugars.

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  • Corey

    What I don’t understand is why tap water has a less than A+ rating, even the top product in the category has less than an A+ rating, and the top product is an ‘organic’ bottled water? Doesn’t make any sense at all to me, especially with how this website touts how good water is, sure it may not have any actual nutrients in it… but organic water? c’mon…

    • http://www.fooducate.com/blog Editorial Staff

      @Corey let us take a look and get back to you on this.

  • Kathy

    Love the App idea but have two questions:
    Do you have an Android app as well?
    Does it work in Australia?
    Really enjoying reading your Facebook posts, keep up the great work.

    • http://www.fooducate.com/blog Editorial Staff

      @Kathy
      1. We are working on an android version.
      2. Currently the app is only available in the US.

  • jenny

    When will you have an android app?

    • http://www.fooducate.com/blog Editorial Staff

      @Jenny working on it. can’t commit to a date yet

  • alex

    I am still baffled by this rating system. I am totally confused as to why an apple (A-) scores lower than some canned sweet potatoes that are packed in syrup (A). Really?

    • http://www.fooducate.com/blog Editorial Staff

      @Alex – let us look into this. We may have errors in the product data that leads to a wrong grade.
      Do you remember the specific sweet potato product?

  • Jan Voght

    Just wanted to say…on the apple vs the canned sweet potato product…when there is an obvious discrepancy, and it’s only the difference of a + or a minus (not a whole grade or more) is it safe to say we can use our own judgement and still stay in a safe enough zone? I love the idea of this app. I don’t even own an iphone, but I’m gonna use this idea everytime I go to the market. It for sure beats what I was doing before…just going on old lifestyle buying habits. Some wiser person than I, once said, “When we know better, we do better”~Maya Angelou Thanks for breaking down this process of examining what I spend my money on, and what products I choose for my family! BRAVO

  • my own beat

    This app is awesome… but some of the kinks kind of make me not want to use this.

    For example.. Raisin Bran (Full of artificial flavors, sugars, and not 100% whole wheat) rates higher than Puffed Millet (No sugars, one ingredient, whole grain)  

    How does this happen?

  • Nicole

    I’m in a I nutrition class and will share this as a resource and tool that students can use

  • http://www.facebook.com/MichaelJohnson3288 Michael Johnson

    A lot of your ratings seem to reflect/support the “standard” dietary guidelines of low fat, higher carb diets — in light of all the attention, and research, cropping up on fats and carbs (which tend to reverse those “standard” dietary guidelines), I’m wondering if you’re working on offering a potential supplementary guide when rating foods that does not give so much lenience toward carbohydrates?

    • http://www.fooducate.com/blog Fooducate

      Our algorithm is based on the current evidence based science. Lower fat products rate better than high fat products but not if they have been adulterated will various fillers and additives. The algorithm does not “give so much lenience” to carbs. It does not vilify carbs either.

  • Caitlin

    I don’t understand why some products have such a huge range in scores. Sabra hummus for example has some varieties with both an A- and a C. If there is a reason for the range, why not at least explain that in the “things to know” section!

    • http://www.fooducate.com/ Fooducate

      Our algorithm is “blind” to the product name or brand. It looks at the ingredients and nutrients only. The wide range in grades for hummus reflects the different ingredients used by a manufacturer in each of its different flavors.

  • Adam Dominguez

    Cant wait to start adding everything I eat to this app so i can adjust my diet accordingly.

    Guess my question is, does Fooducate have nutritional facts about meals served at Denny’s? I see they have info on food from McDonalds. I just had a Fit Slam from Denny’s, would like to add it to my Tracker.

  • Kate

    Can you tell me why diet coke revived an “A” rating and coconut oil receives a “C-”? This doesn’t seem correct.

    • http://www.fooducate.com/ Fooducate

      Diet Coke gets a C-.

  • Dzelal

    How do you add new products to Fooducate library?