Nutrient profiling can help identify foods of good nutritional quality for their price: a validation study with linear programming

Matthieu Maillot, Elaine L Ferguson, Adam Drewnowski, Nicole Darmon
Journal of Nutrition 2008, 138 (6): 1107-13
Nutrient profiling ranks foods based on their nutrient content. They may help identify foods with a good nutritional quality for their price. This hypothesis was tested using diet modeling with linear programming. Analyses were undertaken using food intake data from the nationally representative French INCA (enquête Individuelle et Nationale sur les Consommations Alimentaires) survey and its associated food composition and price database. For each food, a nutrient profile score was defined as the ratio between the previously published nutrient density score (NDS) and the limited nutrient score (LIM); a nutritional quality for price indicator was developed and calculated from the relationship between its NDS:LIM and energy cost (in euro/100 kcal). We developed linear programming models to design diets that fulfilled increasing levels of nutritional constraints at a minimal cost. The median NDS:LIM values of foods selected in modeled diets increased as the levels of nutritional constraints increased (P = 0.005). In addition, the proportion of foods with a good nutritional quality for price indicator was higher (P < 0.0001) among foods selected (81%) than among foods not selected (39%) in modeled diets. This agreement between the linear programming and the nutrient profiling approaches indicates that nutrient profiling can help identify foods of good nutritional quality for their price. Linear programming is a useful tool for testing nutrient profiling systems and validating the concept of nutrient profiling.

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