How can you possibly compare one food to another?

Katie jessop's picture
Posted by Katie jessop on 2011-03-7 9:22

I love Top Ten lists.  We all do.  I will listen longer to a radio station that has a day’s most popular countdown.  If it is a dance music station, it tells me what sorts of songs are popular for those who still go to ‘the club’.  I don’t frequent dance clubs anymore (I would be wildly out of place with my mid40s muffin top), but I still like the music.
Same with foods.  No doubt that since March is Nutrition Month; there will be a list of the best foods, the healthiest foods, maybe even the healthiest products or restaurants.  But lists tell as much about the lister as about the list. 
Is today’s number one song based on a series of comprehensive characteristics that include all the attributes a song can have?  All genres, styles, lyrics, sound quality, version, instrumentalism?  No, it is limited to a few dimensions, like those played on that radio station, on that day, in that part of the world.   That is why there are going to be different #1 songs on the Rock station vs the dance station, and only within Toronto.  Edmonton may have a totally different opinion.
Over time there have been attempts to do this with food, with the idea that food is confusing and that rating them will help the good foods become more top of mind.  But, like music, there are many many different attributes that we can compare foods about. We can rate foods on importance to the necessities of daily life, potential to reduce disease, the quality of the nutrient source, the ability of the body to absorb it, the quality of the research and the body of knowledge around that food or nutrient.  Wow!  There are so many more dimensions to food that I haven’t even listed them all.  I am sure you could add 5 to the list off the top of your head.  Taste? Availability?  Price?  Etc.  
For this reason I think it is important to know what a list is trying to rate.  Is it a comprehensive list, trying to weigh all attributes, or just a weighting of the best in a certain area?  I can easily find a list that rates Vitamin C levels of fruits and veggies. It would be way more difficult for me to assess comprehensively what the best fruit or vegetable is, for all time. That is why dietitians say variety is so important... because it is so hard to make a judgment on the comprehensive value of one food or another.   Looking at a few dimensions will net you out with different winners depending on the dimension.
In the case of Health Check, we are using a few different dimensions to rate foods, and it is an overall guide but not meant to capture everything.  No system can. It is based on ability to meet Canada’s Food Guide principles and Canadian Health Claims.  They in turn are based on extensive scientific research, Canadian food patterns and evidence that link certain foods with reduced risk of chronic disease .  The dimensions we have chosen are limited but important. 
Now, I am not sure I can say that about my local dance station, but that doesn’t mean I won’t check it out on the way home to see if I agree with the #1 song choice. 

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