The Diet Quality Score: Your Ultimate Measure of a Balanced Diet

Have you ever wished there was a simple score to measure the quality of your diet?

We did too.  So, we created the Diet Quality Score! 

Unfortunately, most mainstream approaches to nutrition focus on the ‘bad things’ in food that you should avoid.  You know, like sodium, cholesterol, saturated fat, oxalates, antinutrients, etc.

Popular alternatives to the mainstream tend to revolve around exclusion at the extremes, like plant-based, keto, carnivore, low-fat or low-carb.  Meanwhile, other nutrition gurus simplistically tell you to eat food X to get more nutrient Y.     

But at Optimising Nutrition, we believe diet should primarily be about nutrients. 

After five years of analysis and observation, we are convinced that consuming foods containing more naturally-occurring essential nutrients per calorie leads people to their desired outcomes

Once you get enough of ALL the nutrients you require in your daily energy budget, your appetite settles down, and all the other things work themselves out! 

You are satisfied with fewer calories, can eat less, and lose weight when your body has what it needs to thrive to live your best life.

Learning to view nutrition through the lens of nutrients vs. calorie is a game changer.  Nutrition becomes no longer about deprivation but rather about nourishing your body. 

To help people quantify and gamify their diet, we created the Diet Quality Score to empower them to measure the nutrients in their food. 

This article teaches you about our Diet Quality Score, which thousands of Optimisers have used in our Micros Masterclass to quantify, gamify, and optimise their nutrition and improve their health.   

We Believe Nutrition Should Primarily Be About Nutrients

In contrast to other diet trends or even governing agencies that regulate nutrition guidelines, we start with the basic premise that nutrition is all about getting the essential nutrients your body requires in optimal quantities. 

Unfortunately, the Dietary Reference Intakes (DRI), Adequate Intakes (AI), and Estimated Average Requirements (EAR) were all created to prevent deficiency diseases and NOT promote satiety or optimal health. 

Our previous articles defined our Optimal Nutrient Intakes (ONIs) from our extensive satiety analysis.  To recap, the ONIs are stretch targets that are the lesser of:

  • The 85th percentile intakes of our Optimisers, or the quantity where only 15th of people achieve more than this; and
  • The point at which more of a specific nutrient does not improve satiety any further.

The Optimal Nutrient Intakes are challenging but achievable stretch targets that you can use to optimise your diet without resorting to supplements. 

For more details on the Optimal Nutrient Intakes, see:

Can’t I Take a Pill for That? 

Unfortunately, our analysis has shown that supplementation and fortification don’t tend to improve satiety like getting the vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and essential fatty acids from whole foods do.  Supraphysiological nutrient intakes that are only possible via supplementation and fortification tend to align with a higher calorie intake. 

While supplements are undoubtedly helpful if you have a diagnosed deficiency, they are no match for nutrient-dense whole foods. 

Can you think of anyone whose health improved from taking handfuls of expensive supplements while eating ultra-processed, hyper-palatable junk food

The Problem with Other Nutritional Ranking Systems

Rather than providing your body with what it needs, ‘healthy’ food is more often defined by what various people believe we should avoid.  Sadly, these approaches usually arrive at non-sensical results!

For example, Milo—a chocolate beverage made by Nestle—scores highly with the Health Star Rating used in Australia, despite almost all of its synthetic ingredients.  

In contrast, salmon scores poorly on the same scale because it contains sodium, saturated fat, and cholesterol

Tufts University’s recent Food Compass nutritional profiling system also includes various negative ranking factors for ‘bad’ food properties instead of focusing on the essential nutrients.  Unfortunately, this also leads it to arrive at some bizarre results.  See Is Tufts University’s Food Compass Nutrient Profiling System ‘Broken’?

Ranking foods based on the nutrients they contain provides the most sensible results by far. 

How Is the Diet Quality Score Calculated?

We have defined Optimal Nutrient Intake for all thirty-four essential vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and fatty acids.  The cumulative average percentage intake of each nutrient you consume is your Diet Quality Score.  Hence, you would achieve a score of 100% if you consume 100% of the ONIs for all of the essential nutrients simultaneously.  In contrast, consuming less than 100% of an ONI for a nutrient would lower your Diet Quality Score.

To illustrate, the chart below shows the average nutrient fingerprint for thirty-five thousand Optimisers who have used Nutrient Optimiser over the last five years. 

Towards the bottom, we see that most people find it easy to exceed the ONI for vitamin A and phosphorus.  This ‘excess’ is not a problem.  However, they don’t get extra points towards their Diet Quality Score for exceeding 100% of the ONI for these nutrients.  Limiting the score for intakes beyond optimal is a critical component of our scoring system.

In contrast, it’s much harder for Optimisers to excess the ONI for vitamin K1, vitamin C, omega-3, and folate, shown towards the top of the chart.  

Average Diet Quality Score

The average Diet Quality Score amongst our Optimisers is 48%.  To improve, they must focus on getting more foods that contain their priority nutrients towards the top of their nutrient fingerprint chart. 

As the following frequency distribution chart illustrates, it’s challenging to get a Diet Quality Score great than 85%. 

Getting a perfect 100% Diet Quality Score is extremely challenging but possible.  We tend to see a few people do this in the last few weeks of our Micros Masterclass when our Optimisers start pulling out all the stops and fine-tuning their diet to the best of their abilities. 

To see what our top Optimisers eat to achieve these scores, see:

The nutrient fingerprint chart below shows what a 100% Diet Quality Score for an individual looks like in Nutrient Optimiser.  See how all the nutrients are above the black line, representing 100% of the ONIs.  

In the Micros Masterclass, it’s fun to see people get a little competitive as they vie for the top of the leaderboard. 

However, while a little healthy competition is great, the real battle is with yourself!  Keeping an eye on YOUR individual Diet Quality Score enables you to ensure the nutrient quality of your foods and meals improves each week.

We see great success amongst Optimisers in our Macros Masterclass as people fine-tune their protein, carbs, and fat to improve satiety.  However, many find they improve their Diet Quality Score most when they fine-tune their micronutrient intake in the Micros Masterclass

Because their cravings are satisfied by the food they eat, many find they aren’t as interested in eating despite a low-calorie intake.  Some have explained this as feeling ‘satisfied at a cellular level’. 

Will a Higher Diet Quality Score Help Me Lose Weight?

You may be wondering, ‘but how does this differ from the RDA, EAR, or AI?’  

Our Diet Quality Score is different because it’s based on nutrients per calorie and not absolute nutrient intakes.  Hence, you can still get a good Diet Quality Score even if you eat less.  People who dial up their Diet Quality Score usually find it very hard to overeat nutrient-dense foods and meals.

As the chart below shows, increasing your Diet Quality Score tends to reduce the number of calories you consume.  But, as you can see, you don’t need to get a super high score to make progress. 

In our Micros Masterclass, on average, Optimisers increase their Diet Quality Score from 62 to 74% over four weeks.  

People who reach the top of the leaderboard don’t maintain a super high score forever!  Their scores tend to drop back a bit in the coming weeks or months.  While some Optimisers continue to monitor their nutrition, we don’t encourage people to track their food over the long term.  It’s better to get the hang of it intuitively for the sake of your physical and mental state!

Once you’ve spent a few weeks gamifying the nutrients in your food, it’s hard to unsee what you’ve learned!   We want Optimisers to build new habits and develop a repertoire of foods they enjoy eating so nutrient density becomes effortless and they don’t have to continue micromanaging their food. 

We encourage Optimisers to identify a shortlist of foods and meals they enjoy and that align with their goals.   If you can make sure you are surrounded by these foods in the future (and don’t put the processed junk in your shopping trolley), you can trust your cravings and appetite to guide you to the foods your body requires. 

How is the Cronometer Nutrition Score Different from the Diet Quality Score?

If you’ve used Cronometer, you may have seen the various scores for different goals and conditions.  However, the problem is that you must eat more food (i.e., calories) to meet these targets, which isn’t ideal if your goal is also weight loss.

In contrast, Nutrient Optimiser’s Diet Quality Score is based on all the essential micronutrients per calorie.  So, the Diet Quality Score is a measure of food quality, irrespective of quantity.  

To improve your score, you must consume more foods with more of the priority nutrients listed at the top of your nutrient fingerprint chart.  

In the Micros Masterclass, Nutrient Optimiser guides Optimisers to focus on foods and meals that contain more nutrients you’re currently not getting enough of so you can fill the area to the left of the vertical 100% line. 

This entirely different paradigm helps shift your focus from food quantity to food quality.  When you improve the nutrient density of your food, you feel more satiated, and it becomes nearly impossible to overeat these foods. 

What’s Your Diet Quality Score?

You can take our Free Nutrient Clarity Challenge if you want to find your Diet Quality Score.

After seven days of tracking your current diet, you will get your micronutrient fingerprint and Diet Quality Score.  Nutrient Optimiser will also highlight the foods and meals that contain your priority nutrients so you can continue your Nutritional Optimisation journey.

If you want some ideas on what to eat, you can check out our free nutrient-dense food lists or our NutriBooster recipe books tailored for a wide range of goals and preferences. 

If you want a bit of extra guidance to dial in your Diet Quality Score, you can join us for the next Micros Masterclass to level up your nutrient density in a fun and supportive community environment. 

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