As a nutrition professional who spent most of her time in graduate school studying how schools can help prevent obesity, I’m honored to be contributing to Mrs. Q’s blog. I’m sure many of her readers will agree with me when I say that the “behind the scenes” perspective provided through this blog is invaluable and frankly, unavailable elsewhere. I started following Mrs. Q back in January, and so have watched the blog evolve to cover food and nutrition issues beyond school lunch. Recently, there were two posts on corporations, one general post about Nature’s Path and another open thread inquiring which companies we trusted. Based on the comments on these posts, it’s clear that there’s a desire to support companies that are trustworthy.
To me, this desire is a sign that we’ve begun to realize that our shopping decisions influence the marketplace. We, as consumers, can get companies to make better products by selectively purchasing products we want from corporations that represent our values. Sometimes, though, it’s incredibly challenging to figure out which companies are really reputable. The company I work for, GoodGuide, is trying to support that exact goal. Our mission is to help consumers make better purchasing decisions – better in terms of the product’s healthfulness, impact on the environment, and influence on society.
We do this by rating a wide array of consumer products on hundreds of health, environmental, and social attributes. For food, the health scores are based primarily on the nutrition facts panel, while the environment and social scores are based on company-level data. The ratings fall on a 0-10 scale, with higher scoring products representing better purchases. Here’s an example that highlights what I mean:
GoodGuide Overall Score: 6.6 (Health: 5.6, Environment: 7.9, Social: 6.2)
GoodGuide Overall Score: 5.2 (Health: 4.8, Environment: 5.2, Social: 5.6)
From this example, you can see that the while the health scores are somewhat similar (Annie’s does slightly better because the product is certified organic by the USDA), it’s the environmental and social scores that really push up Annie’s product. You can do product comparisons in many different categories, including breakfast cereal, pasta, baby food, and 15,000 other food products. Additionally, you can how companies rate on a whole host of metrics (see how Nature’s Path does).
I will be the first to say that GoodGuide makes some necessary assumptions. (If you’re curious, I invite you to read about GoodGuide’s ratings approach and history). When it comes to food, we mostly focus on packaged goods, as these are the items with UPC codes and nutrition data that can be analyzed. We do rate fresh items when possible, and these products usually score the highest on the rating spectrum. My hope is that people will compare products between categories and realize that the more processed foods aren’t the way to go. It’s important to be realistic though – that’s not the way most Americans eat. If GoodGuide can help people make small switches, it’s the first step towards improving health and supporting companies that deserve our hard-earned money.
*** NOTE from Mrs. Q: I receive no payment for guest blogs. I like to feature people, products, and ideas that are related to food and that interest me on days that I don’t have regular content to share. ***Sheila Viswanathan, as part of GoodGuide’s Science team, focuses on rating food products and educating individuals on how to make healthier dietary choices. She received her doctoral degree in Nutrition and Public Health from Teachers College, Columbia University and is certified as a registered dietitian. GoodGuide, based in San Francisco, California, seeks to provide authoritative information about the health, environmental and social performance of products and companies. Over 60,000 personal care products, household chemicals, toys, food, and paper products are currently rated by GoodGuide.