If I made a list of my top-five candies, I would rank Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups as one of my favorites.

I know that peanut butter cups, and most sugary candy, aren’t the healthiest choice. They’re a treat. A simple pleasure. A little joy break in my day.

That’s why I was so surprised recently to learn about a nutrition researcher who claims Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups are healthier than real beef.

Dr. Dariush Mozzaffarian, a cardiologist and dean of nutrition science and policy at Tufts University, participated in a research team that created the Food Compass, a nutrition scoring system for food.

The Food Compass rates foods and beverages on a scale of 0 to 100 based on nine nutritional values.

It sounds like a good idea on paper, but unfortunately, the rankings don’t make much sense in the real world.

Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups have a rating of 30, while cooked ground beef has a rating of 26.

Even Lucky Charms, which are essentially marshmallows in breakfast form, are rated higher, at 69, than real meat and poultry.

It doesn’t take a nutrition science degree to see the flaws in this rating system.

The myth that real beef isn’t good for heart health has been debunked. The American Heart Association recommends that a 3-ounce serving of lean meat, including beef, can be part of a heart-healthy diet.

Real beef is also a nutritional powerhouse. Beef is an excellent source of 10 essential nutrients, including B vitamins, zinc, iron, choline and selenium, that are important for an active, healthy lifestyle.

Unfortunately, many Americans are deficient in these essential micronutrients, according to nutrition experts.

For example, over 20% of women of reproductive age in the United States are iron deficient, said Dr. Ty Beal with the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition in the recent “Sound Bites” dietetics podcast.

Beal said women need a high amount of dietary iron during their reproductive years.

Unfortunately, overall iron intakes are decreasing, he said, as beef consumption in the United States has declined and chicken consumption is on the rise.

About two-thirds of the iron in beef is heme iron, Beal said. Heme iron is much more bioavailable, meaning that our bodies are better able to absorb this important nutrient. Chicken doesn’t provide as much heme iron as beef, Beal said.

Only animal-sourced foods contain heme iron, Beal added. Plant-sourced foods may contain non-heme iron, but it’s much less bioavailable.

Beal said we should all prioritize nutrient-dense foods that are good sources of iron, zinc and B12.

That’s why nutrient scoring attempts, like the Food Compass, are widely criticized by experts.

A healthy diet includes a variety of foods – real meat, dairy, fruits and vegetables, and whole grains.

For more information about the nutritional value of real meat and how Iowa farmers work every day to raise safe, high-quality meat, visit www.realfarmersrealfoodrealmeat.com.

By Teresa Bjork. Teresa is Iowa Farm Bureau's Consumer Content Manager.

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