The ANDI Scale: Thrive vs. Burger King

A friend and I recently lunched at Thrive (1239 Alton Rd., Miami Beach). We split two entrées and a fresh juice. Our bill came to about $32. For $16, we each had half a portobello mushroom "pizza" topped with cashew nut cheese, a half portion of sweet potato and black bean stew with brown rice, a small side salad that comes with each entrée, and half a beet, carrot, and spirulina juice. Each of our meals totaled somewhere around 600 calories. That's a generous estimate. So if you do the math, that amounts to about 2.7 cents per calorie.

Compare that to a meal at Burger King (110 Fifth St., Miami Beach). A small Whopper Value Meal, consisting of the sandwich, a Coke, and fries, costs about $5.50 in Miami Beach and contains about 1,200 calories. That's .46 cents per calorie, which means that a calorie at Thrive costs about six times the price of a calorie at the Burger King seven blocks down the street.

Better deal? Maybe. But Whole Foods and many authorities on nutrition have recently looked to the Aggregate Nutrient Density Index (ANDI) to calculate the value of a calorie.

It considers food from the "nutritarian" perspective. Basically, it measures the amount of nutrients a food packs per calorie -- nutrients that do things such as prevent disease, boost energy levels, improve organ function, prevent bone loss, and contribute to healthy skin, nails, and teeth. According to the ANDI scores website, nutrients considered include:

Calcium, Carotenoids: Beta Carotene, Alpha Carotene, Lutein & Zeaxanthin, Lycopene, Fiber, Folate, Glucosinolates, Iron, Magnesium, Niacin, Selenium, Vitamin B1 (Thiamin), Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin), Vitamin B6, Vitamin B12, Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Zinc, plus ORAC score X 2 (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity is a method of measuring the antioxidant or radical scavenging capacity of foods).

Foods can score anywhere from less than 1 (nutritionally bankrupt items, such as most sodas, score in this range) to 1,000 (cooked kale scores that number on the index). So let's look back at those two meals, considering the ANDI scores of the foods in each.

Burger King meal:
Ground beef: 29
White bun: 18
Iceberg lettuce: 110
Tomato: 164
French fries: 7
Total: 328*

Thrive meal:
Portobello mushroom cap: 135
Cashew nuts: 26
Alfalfa sprouts: 130
Sweet potato: 83
Black beans: 83
Cabbage: 420
Shredded carrot: 336
Tomato: 164
Field greens: 300
Beet/carrot/spirulina juice: approx. 365
Total: 2042*

By this measure, eating at Thrive gives more than six times the nutritional benefit as does eating at Burger King. At Thrive, the patron spends .008 cents per ANDI point, as opposed to .017 cents per ANDI point at the drive-thru -- so basically you pay almost five times as much for every little scrap of actual nutrition you buy at Burger King... and those scraps are buried under loads of fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, fillers, preservatives, and additives.

So is it more expensive to eat healthfully? Maybe if you're eating only to get through the day. But you might want to weigh the long-term health costs of eating a cheap, nutrient-poor diet today before deciding where to buy your lunch.

*ANDI scores are based on a ratio of calories to nutrients, so portion sizes do not affect the scores. That means this demonstration is inexact, but we hope still useful to illustrate the value of a nutrient-rich diet.

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