Learn more about the rigorous criteria that SPE Certified applies to both its certification and consulting programs.

Through our SOURCING, PREPARING and ENHANCING philosophy and culinary techniques, SPE Certified strives to:

  • Promote the consumption of fruits and vegetables
  • Promote the consumption of high quality fats and reduce saturated fat
  • Ensure nutrient density in a dish
  • Limit processed ingredients
  • Preserve and enhance food’s intrinsic nutritional properties



When planning the ingredients for a dish, we start by identifying nutritious, seasonal ingredients sourced from local farmers and vendors, as much as possible. While nearly every fresh ingredient has a place in SPE, fruits and vegetables are the foundation of every dish, and for all components, we place a priority on whole ingredients over processed.


Once we have sourced the ingredients, we prepare them in a way that maintains their nutritional integrity. Preferred SPE cooking techniques include a la plancha, sauté, steaming, roasting and sous-vide, to name a few. We do not grill since charred protein can contain carcinogens and we do not deep-fry since oil breaks down to harmful products with repeated use in a deep fryer and the food can become saturated with oil. We also do not use butter or cream when preparing appetizers and entrées (and only as necessary for desserts) to reduce the saturated fat in dishes. And lastly, as much as possible, we cook from scratch to help reduce sodium and ensure fresh ingredients.


We enhance the quality of the dish by carefully working to optimize the amount and number of nutrients per calorie - its “nutrient density.” We balance the portions of the ingredients on the plate and always try to strategically  combine foods which are more nutritious when eaten together than separately. Our culinary nutritionists use SPE’s proprietary analysis model to suggest additions or substitutions to a member chef to maximize the nutritional quality of the dish.

Our ingredients, balance and portioning guidelines are derived from dietary recommendations from governmental and health organizations, including the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010 from the Department of Health and Human Services and Department of Agriculture. Our SPE guidelines, which are compiled in our proprietary SPE Charters and validated by the SPE Scientific Committee, are aligned with the recommendations for Americans to:

  • Increase consumption of fruits and vegetables
  • Increase the amount and variety of seafood
  • Use oil to replace solid fats
  • Reduce the intake of solid fats, added sugar, and salt
  • Reduce the intake of refined grains


Nutritional Outcomes


SPE is based on the concept that the quality of what you eat is ultimately more important than the quantity, as calories alone are not enough to keep you full or satisfied. SPE does not have strict criteria for each individual nutrient we consider, but rather in our transformation of a dish, our culinary nutritionists examine its overall nutrient profile – focusing on over 20 factors* – and make recommendations to increase nutrient density while reducing less desirable nutrients (such as saturated fat, sodium, and added sugar). As a result of this process, SPE dishes contain a variety of beneficial nutrients and typically meet the following criteria:





Saturated Fat     


Fruit & Vegetable (raw weight)


<300 kcal <4 g <620 mg At least 50 g (approx. ½ cup)
Entrées 300-400 kcal <5 g <820 mg At least 100 g (approx. 1 cup)
Desserts 250-350 kcal <4 g <25 mg 40-80 g (¼ - ½ cup)
Total meal 750-1050 kcal <13 g <1465 mg 190-280 g (approx. ¾ - 2 cups)



Some SPE certified dishes may fall outside the criteria described above. In these cases, we have considered the nutritional values across the entire meal, to allow restaurants flexibility in their SPE certified offering.

We create nutrient dense dishes that maximize fruits and vegetables, unprocessed ingredients, whole grains, healthy fats and proteins. Nevertheless, some SPE dishes may not meet all the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010 or the FDA’s criteria for a ‘healthy’ dish. The most common deviations from the USDA’s guidance and the FDA’s ‘healthy’ criteria are as follows:

  • While the Dietary Guidelines recommend 20-35% of calories come from fat, some SPE dishes may have more than 35% of calories from fat. For example, dishes featuring a fatty fish such as salmon may have higher amounts of fat, but since this is healthier omega-3 fat we allow it.
  • SPE dishes may contain more than 600 mg of sodium and 90 mg of cholesterol, the FDA’s respective maximums for a ‘healthy’ main dish.
  • Individual SPE dishes contain a variety of nutrients, however may not contain the specific amounts of vitamin A, vitamin C, iron or calcium that the FDA requires for a given dish to be ‘healthy’. However, eating with a variety of SPE dishes over the course of a meal would likely meet these criteria and thus meet the spirit of the FDA’s requirements.


Our Quality Control Process


We are committed to maintaining the standards of quality behind our certification label and ensuring that they are continually met in SPE Certified establishments. As the most trusted label for health, sustainability and taste, we implement a rigorous quality control process that ensures SPE Certified restaurants and foodservice providers meet the requirements of the SPE Charter and fully represent SPE’s principles via their certified dishes. Our quality control process includes:


  • Onsite visits by our culinary nutritionists
  • Reviews of customer feedback
  • Laboratory analysis of some dishes
  • Process improvement procedures


Our quality control process is not meant to police partner restaurants and foodservice providers. Rather, it serves as a reminder of how the principles of SPE are understood and put into practice and provides constructive feedback. Through the periodic follow-up of SPE Certified chefs and dietitians, the process provides us additional opportunities to assist partner chefs in successfully applying the principles of SPE.



*Amount of fruit and/or vegetable, omega-3 fatty acids (ALA, DHA+EPA), omega-6 fatty acids, fiber, potassium, calcium, iron, magnesium, selenium, zinc, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, thiamin, folate, vitamin B12, sodium, added sugar, saturated fat, and calories