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Nutr J. 2016 Nov 9;15(1):96.

Development of a standardized measure to assess food quality: a proof of concept.

Author information

Lamis Jomaa, Faculty of Agricultural and Food Sciences, American University of Beirut, Beirut, Lebanon.
Nahla Hwalla, Faculty of Agricultural and Food Sciences, American University of Beirut, Beirut, Lebanon.
Jeremy Zidek, Futura Food, 113 Creekside Drive, State College, PA, 16801, USA.



Food-based dietary guidelines are promoted to improve diet quality. In applying dietary recommendations, such as the MyPlate, the number of servings in a food group is the unit of measure used to make food selections. However, within each food group, different foods can vary greatly in their nutritional quality despite often having similar energy (caloric) values. This study aimed to develop a novel unit of measure that accounts for both the quantity of energy and the quality of nutrients, as defined by caloric and micronutrient density, respectively, in foods and to demonstrate its usability in identifying high quality foods within a food group.


A standardized unit of measure reflecting the quality of kilocalories for nutrition (qCaln) was developed through a mathematical function dependent on the energy content (kilocalories per 100 g) and micronutrient density of foods items within a food group. Nutrition composition of 1806 food items was extracted from the USDA nutrient database. For each food item analyzed, qCaln ratios were calculated to compare qCaln to its caloric content. Finally, a case example was developed comparing two plates adapted from the MyPlate.


Examples of food items with highest and lowest qCaln ratios were displayed for five food groups: vegetables, fruits/fruit juices, milk/dairy products, meats/meat alternatives, and breads/cereals. Additionally, the applicability of the qCaln was presented through comparing two plates, adopted from the USDA MyPlate, to show differences in food quality.


The newly developed qCaln measure can be used to rank foods in terms of their nutrient density while accounting for their energy content. The proposed metric can provide consumers, public health professionals, researchers, and policy makers with an easy-to-understand measure of food quality and a practical tool to assess diet quality among individuals and population groups.


Food quality; Novel measure; Nutrient density; Nutrient profiling; qCaln

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