Truth behind the 'Lucky Charms are healthier than steak' claim
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There are claims going around that Lucky Charms cereal is now ranked as healthier than steak according to the US government, but they are not quite true.
I know what you're thinking, how can some of the sugariest kid's cereal around be listed as healthier than good old steak? If you dig down, the claims are on pretty thin ice and already being challenged.
The misleading statement has been going around thanks in no small part to people such as Joe Rogan, who have shared headlines on social media which proclaimed the healthiness of Lucky Charms compared to steak (in his case to denounce it, steak lover that he is), but behind the headlines the truth is more complicated.
First things first, there is no new food pyramid in the US. They don't use that any more so there's no official US government pyramid where the cereal sits above steak.
What is actually being cited is a set of scores from a system devised by Tufts University. One of the researchers Dariush Mozaffarian gave a presentation to US government officials last year as part of a task force into reducing diet-related diseases.
So very tenuous, then.
Here's the jargon-y bit: the scores used are part of something called a Nutrient Profiling System (NPS), which measures a number of factors and can give a rough idea of how healthy and nutritious a particular food product is.
In this case, the NPS is called Food Compass and aims to give foods a score between 0 and 100 depending on whether you should be adding more of it into your diet or not.
If the food is rated 70 or more they recommend having more of it, but if it's 30 or lower then you ought to try and cut down on it.
Food Compass measured 8,032 different food items, judging them on nine categories including how nutritious they are, how many additives they contain and if the food is processed.
Beef steak has a score of 33, while on the chart used in the study ground beef is in the red zone with 26 (eating it raw bumps it up to 38) and Lucky Charms are up at 56.
Neither steak nor Lucky Charms scores highly enough to get put into the 'you should have more of this in your diet' category, and both fall under the category of foods that should be eaten in moderation.
Ground beef is one this NPS says to stay away from if you can.
However, the data itself is not some official US government guideline and isn't part of a food pyramid as certain places are claiming.
The graphics some have been sharing online showing Lucky Charms rated higher than steak also do not come from Food Compass, but rather a study arguing that measuring foods like they do is not a good idea.
This study argues that NPS's are 'founded on a reductionist assumption that the healthfulness of foods is determined by the sum of their nutrients'.
They call the work done by Food Compass a 'conceptually impressive effort', but argue that the idea you can measure food like this is 'not well justified'.
It also goes on to say that they found this particular NPS can 'exaggerate the risks associated with animal source foods' while having a tendency to 'underestimate the risks associated with ultra-processed foods'.
Food Compass has said the graphs used in viral posts about the Lucky Stars claim have been showing 'exceptions' to their findings and insisted their overall method 'works very well', but they accept the constructive criticism and are working on an updated version of their findings at the moment.
So ultimately no, the US government isn't working off information that Lucky Charms are healthier than steak and the numbers that suggest they are being strongly challenged and revised anyway.
UNILAD has contacted Food Compass for comment.