New Data Reveals Chocolate Ice Cream May Be More Nutritious Than Pancakes

Many of us who try to eat a balanced diet may think of our nutritional choices as trade-offs; for example, we may opt for some potato chips for a snack, while planning to balance out that nutritionally empty snack with a big salad for dinner. The problem? Most of us believe we eat healthier than we actually do. And determining why that is the case isn't exactly easy.

The American Society for Nutrition notes that Dr. Jessica Thomson, research epidemiologist at the USDA Agricultural Research Service, explains, "It's difficult for us to say whether U.S. adults lack an accurate understanding of the components of a healthful versus unhealthful diet or whether adults perceive the healthfulness of their diet as they wish it to be — that is, higher in quality than it actually is." And really, who can blame us, when actual nutritional data and interpretations of it are so counterintuitive? One would think it's clear that chocolate ice cream couldn't be nutritionally better than ... well ... pretty much anything, but one would be wrong.

The Tufts' Food Compass helps us evaluate relative nutritional value

Scientists at Tufts University's Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy developed a tool that assigns a nutritional score to foods. It's an effort to guide individuals and institutions in the goal of eating healthier and developing more sound nutritional guidelines and policies. Interestingly, the Tufts' Food Compass doesn't always give you the results you'd expect.

When you look at the score for a chocolate ice cream cone with nuts, the Food Compass shows a score of 37. The score for plain pancakes? 13. How does the Food Compass intend for these values to be used? Consumption of foods with a score greater than 70 is encouraged. Foods with a score between 31 and 69 should be consumed in moderation, and foods that rank below 30 should be minimized in a healthy diet. Given that an ice cream cone has more nutritional value than pancakes and that it takes a little digging to determine, for example, whether white or brown rice is healthier, having new tools to better understand nutrition is a good thing for those of us trying to eat more healthy foods.