More than just climate impact
We eat food for many different reasons; from celebrating special occasions to comfort eating our way through the winter blues. At the most basic level, we eat food for energy, nutrition and sustenance.
The thing is, not all foods are created equal; we get much more energy and nutrition out of some foods than others. There’s a big difference between a rice cake and a beef burger, so any food ranking that looks exclusively at the climate impact of food products, misses out on the key values of the food itself.
We're working on combining the carbon footprint of food products with nutritional value to give a more rounded sustainability score.
Here’s our progress so far on rating the nutrition in a food product:
Phase 1: The Food Unit
The first rating system that we’ve implemented is known as the Food Unit. It combines the amount of calories, protein, fats, dry matter and water content of the food.
The calories tell us how much energy is in the food, proteins and fats are important macronutrients, and the ratio of dry matter and water content in a food gives an indication as to how full you’ll feel after eating it. This rating has been pioneered by our Swiss life cycle assessment partners Eaternity, and is a good attempt to combine the nutrition and energy provided by a food with its climate impact.
The food unit is represented by the above planet and heart symbol on the app, and the higher the score the better.
It's then combined with the carbon footprint of the food and converted into a five star rating to give you an overall indication of how sustainable the food is. The lower the carbon footprint and the higher the food unit, the better the food product scores.
Over time we’ve found some interesting anomalies with this system. For example, since the Food Unit doesn’t consider the micronutrients in a food, vegetables don’t get the full credit for how good they really are. Foods that are calorie dense do phenomenally well, with foods like sugar and marshmallows doing better than we’d expect. On the other hand, drinks like tea and coffee get a terrible score because they are low in calories, protein and fats. We're working on some improvements to give a better picture of sustainability, and are working towards adopting a more comprehensive index.
Phase 2: The Nutrient Density per Climate Impact Index
The next step after the Food Unit is to adopt a Nutrient Density per Climate Impact Index for our scoring. Such an index measures the quantity of essential nutrients in a food against the recommended daily allowance of those nutrients and compares those quantities to that of the most harmful nutrients when consumed in excess; saturated fats, refined sugar, and sodium.
This ratio of the good to the bad is then combined with the product’s greenhouse gas emissions. The final result is also translated into a five star rating, showing us how to get the most nutritious food for the lowest climate impact.
The benefits of using the Nutrient Density per Climate Impact index instead of the Food Unit is that it accounts for micronutrients and the negative effects of consuming too much fat, salt, and sugar. The main shortcoming compared to the Food Unit is that it does not account for the energy provided by the food.
The difference between “healthy” and “nutritious”
What’s important to note is that looking at nutrition alone isn’t enough to say whether a food is healthy or not. For example, studies link processed meats to increased likelihood of bowel cancer, but we can’t yet account for this in scoring system that we have in place. We can’t say yet that the Evocco score guarantees you the healthiest food for the lowest climate impact, but what we can say is that we help you find the most nutritious food for the lowest climate impact.