Based on observed ranges, a Food Compass Score ≥70 was selected a reasonable cutpoint for foods or beverages to be encouraged; 31-69, to be consumed in moderation; and ≤30, to be minimized.

Comparison of Foods by Food Compass Score within Categories


Example FCS for three different juice beverages:


Example FCS for three different grain-based foods:


Example FCS for different types of cherries:

Seafood, Dairy, Eggs, Meat

Example FCS for three different protein sources:

Mixed Dishes

Example FCS for three different types of soup:

Savory Snacks & Sweet Desserts

Example FCS for three different chocolate desserts:

A total of 54 individual attributes across 9 domains are assessed per 100 kcal (418.4 kj) of food product. Beneficial attributes were scored from 0 to 10, harmful attributes scored -10 to 0, and attribute ratios (which could range from harmful to beneficial) scored -10 to 10.  Each domain receives a score as the average of all attributes in that domain. Food ingredients are scored as the sum, as contents of ingredients are interdependent.  The final Food Compass score (FCS) is scaled across all food and beverage items to range from 1 (least healthful) to 100 (most healthful). 

Testing and Validation

The Food Compass algorithm was developed based on assessment of more than 100 reported Nutrient Profiling Systems (NPS).4,9 Food Compass was then applied to all 8,032 unique foods and beverages in USDA’s Food and Nutrient Database for Dietary Studies (FNDDS) to assess usefulness and validity. Based on observed ranges, a FCS of 70 or higher was selected a reasonable cutpoint for foods or beverages to be encouraged; FCS between 31 to 69 is for foods or beverages to be consumed in moderation; and a FCS less than 30 are for foods and beverages to be minimized. A figure depicting Food Compass Score (FCS) for 8,032 unique foods and beverages consumed by U.S. Adults, based on NHANES 2015-16 can be seen below as standard boxplots, comparing the scores between 12 major food categories (top panel) and 44 food subcategories (bottom panel). The horizontal lines representing the median FCS score; shaded bars, the interquartile range (25th, 75th percentiles); error bars, the 5th and 95th percentiles, and small circles, additional outliers.

Food Compass vs. Other NPS

Food Compass and the NOVA classification system

Discriminant potential of FCS was evaluated within each category of the NOVA classification system. Within each NOVA category, food items had relatively broad ranges of scores. Unprocessed items (NOVA=1) generally scored as healthier (mean FCS~82) than ultraprocessed items (NOVA=4, mean FCS~37).

Food Compass vs. Health Star Rating (HSR) and Nutri-Score

Health Star Rating (HSR) and Nutri-Score were designed for packaged foods, not home-cooked foods, restaurant meals, or mixed meals including multiple items, and thus the comparison to FCS (which can be used for these purposes) should be interpreted in that context. Conversely, validation of these scores against health outcomes has necessarily assessed all foods and beverages as consumed.25-31 The very high correlations between HSR and Nutri-Score (often approaching r=0.90) indicates these two systems provide very similar information on foods. In contrast, FCS only moderately correlated with these other NPS overall, and much less for categories like fish & seafood, beverages, grains, vegetables, dairy, legumes, nuts, & seeds, and savory snacks and sweet desserts.

The HSR is a continuous score used to create 10 rating categories, ranging from half a star to five stars. Compared to Food Compass, the overall correlation was moderate (Spearman r=0.67) (see the below table of Correlation between Food Compass Score and other NPS). In other words, HSR explained only about 45% of the variation described by the FCS. This correlation varied widely by food category, with the highest correlation for fruits, as well as meat, poultry, and eggs. The correlation was much lower for savory snacks & sweet desserts, legumes, nuts, & seeds, grains, and vegetables.

Food Category No. of Items Food Compass Score vs. Health Star Rating Food Compass Score vs. Nutri-Score Health Star Rating vs. Nutri-Score
Beverages 275 0.38 0.32 0.73
Grains 727 0.22 0.08 0.89
Fruits 264 0.70 0.78 0.89
Vegetables 1,565 0.23 0.44 0.75
Legumes, Nuts, and Seeds 264 0.30 -0.08 0.75
Meat, Poultry, and Eggs 763 0.63 0.60 0.88
Fish and Seafood 434 0.42 0.33 0.75
Dairy 245 0.44 0.41 0.77
Fats and Oils 129 0.50 0.25 0.71
Mixed Dishes 2,206 0.59 0.45 0.84
Sauces and Condiment 160 0.60 0.50 0.88
Savory Snacks and Sweet Desserts 1,000 0.35 0.18 0.89
Overall 8,032 0.67 0.57 0.87

Figures are adapted from Mozaffarian D, El-Abbadi NH, O’Hearn M, Erndt-Marino J, Masters WA, Jacques, P, Shi P, Blumberg, JB, Micha R. 2021. Food Compass is a nutrient profiling system using expanded characteristics for assessing healthfulness of foods. Nature Food.

4. Labonte, M. E. et al. Nutrient Profile Models with Applications in Government-Led Nutrition Policies Aimed at Health Promotion and Noncommunicable Disease Prevention: A Systematic Review. Adv Nutr 9, 741-788, doi:10.1093/advances/nmy045 (2018).

9. Pomeranz, J., Mozaffarian, D. & Micha, R. Mandating front-of-package food labels in the U.S. – What are the First Amendment obstacles? Food Policy 86, Epub 19 June 2019, doi: (2019).