How the HEI Is Scored

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Healthy Eating Index text as a logoThe HEI-2015 is the current version of the HEI and was designed to align with the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. HEI-2015 and the two previous versions, the HEI-2010 and the HEI-2005, all share common key features. Our collaborator, the National Cancer Institute, has a table titled Comparison of the Components & Scoring Standards in the HEI-2015, HEI-2010 & HEI-2005.

HEI Components Capture the Balance Among Food Groups

The HEI-2015 includes 13 components that reflect the key recommendations in the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. There are two groupings:

  • Adequacy components represent the food groups, subgroups, and dietary elements that are encouraged. For these components, higher scores reflect higher intakes, because higher intakes are desirable.
  • Moderation components represent the food groups and dietary elements for which there are recommended limits to consumption. For moderation components, higher scores reflect lower intakes, because lower intakes are more desirable.

Overall, a higher total HEI score indicates a diet that aligns better with dietary recommendations.

HEI-2015 Total and Component Scoring Standards

The HEI-2015 components can be considered as a set of scores, each of which measures compliance with a different aspect of the Dietary Guidelines. Each of the 13 components is assigned a standard for achieving a maximum score. The components are then summed to get the total HEI-2015 score: a maximum of 100 points. The HEI components are weighted equally because all aspects are considered equally important. Some areas of the diet are represented by two components and assigned a maximum of 5 points each. All other components receive a maximum of 10 points.

For example, fruit is represented by 2 components: Total Fruits and Whole Fruits. Each component can receive a maximum of 5 points with a total of 10 points for the fruit component of the diet.

The components and scoring standards are shown in the table below titled HEI-2015 Components and Scoring Standards.



Interpreting the HEI Score

The total HEI score is an indication of overall diet quality, while the component scores when examined together show a pattern of diet quality. The closer a set of foods (i.e., what you collectively eat and drink) aligns with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the higher the HEI score.

HEI Scores Reflect Diet Quality, Not Diet Quantity

A key feature of the HEI is that the scoring separates dietary quality from quantity using what is called a density approach. The components are generally calculated as a food group amount per 1,000 calories in the total mix of foods. The Fatty Acids component is an exception; it is scored as a ratio of unsaturated to saturated fatty acids.

Density scoring is important because it allows researchers to apply the HEI in a variety of research settings. How We Use the Healthy Eating Index page describes the various applications of the HEI.

Detailed information on the development of the components, scoring standards, and density approach for the HEI-2015, as well as the HEI-2005 and HEI-2010, is described in published papers in peer-reviewed journals listed on the Healthy Eating Index Resources page.