Could Ice Cream Be Healthier Than A Multigrain Bagel?

Is ice cream a healthy option for breakfast? Maybe not, but according to a 2021 study in Nature Food, some of your ice cream favorites can be a healthier choice than some of your current breakfast options. In a news release about the study, researchers at Tufts University took three years to develop the Food Compass, which weighs both the healthy and harmful aspects of more than 8,000 foods. Researchers ranked these foods according to 54 characteristics and nine domains, such as their nutrient ratios and amount of food processing. Rather than isolating the impact of specific foods based on how they can improve a certain condition, the Food Compass gives a single score for how these foods are linked to managing chronic diseases and improving overall health.

The Food Compass rates foods from 1-100. Foods rated 70-100 are to be eaten more often, whereas foods rated below 30 should be minimized. Foods between 31-69 can be enjoyed in moderation. According to the Food Compass data, some of the highest-rated foods are salmon, raw fruits, and Cheerios. The lowest-rated foods include pita bread, sports and energy drinks, and breakfast pastries. A chocolate ice cream cone with nuts scores 37, but a multigrain bagel with raisins has a score of 19. A whole wheat muffin is a better choice with a score of 51, while wheat bread is even better with a score of 60.

Small changes make a difference in Food Compass score

You might think that a roast beef sandwich is better for you than your childhood favorite, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. However, the Food Compass shows that your roast beef au jus on a roll is an 11, but your PB&J on white is a 35. The peanut butter makes a difference because a simple jelly sandwich on white bread rates a 1.

If you like crackers, the salt and the wheat can also vary the score on the Food Compass scale. Reduced-sodium wheat crackers can be enjoyed in moderation with a score of 48, but basic saltines are rated 7. Unsalted pretzels might seem like a healthy snack on the go, but it scores a meager 2. Your choice of pasta can also vary. Cooked pasta is a 9, but whole grain pasta has a score of 70. If you like chocolate, a chocolate-covered ice cream bar has a Food Compass score of 17, and chocolate frozen yogurt scores 43. Your better choice would be chocolate-covered almonds, which have a whopping score of 78.

The researchers said that the Food Compass score could be used in food package labeling so that people can make healthier choices throughout the day. They also hope that the food industry might look for ways to improve the nutrition of their foods to increase their Food Compass score.