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Just a sample of what you might find when swiping a bar code in the cereal aisle
Just a sample of what you might find when swiping a bar code in the cereal aisle

In this day and age, our cell phones are like having a second heartbeat. They wake us up with an alarm; give us the news and our daily horoscope, keep us in touch with our friends via recently posted pictures and Facebook status updates. We can also pay bills, play video games and listen to music thru our phones. So, we might as well be able to eat through them, right? Well, not literally, but figuratively speaking, there are now applications for the I Phone that are meant to help you with eating healthier and even with your grocery shopping.

The Fooducate (Food-U-Cate) application on the I Phone is essentially a downloadable dietitian. Fooducate lets shoppers scan a product bar code in the grocery store for an instant read on a food’s health value, represented by a letter grade from A to D. Once a food has been scanned and recognized, the app offers healthier alternatives or can compare two products side-by-side.

Apparently, the Fooducate application uses a set of rules for solving a problem in a finite amount of steps, technically called an algorithm. This counts out not just the nutrients, but also if the nutrients were added in processing, which will ultimately lower the score of the food item if they were. Sodium, sugar and saturated fats count against a food’s rating; fiber and naturally occurring nutrients count in a food’s favor.

One of the application’s strengths is its ability to decipher ingredients. For example, in certain health food based cereal/granola bars, teaspoons of sugar are accounted for, some more than 4-5 teaspoons in a serving and most of the time it is added sugar. The Fooducate application will often recommend a piece of fruit over a sugary bar, which, especially for us nutrition professionals, is a good thing.

Fooducate can also spot additives that may escape notice because they go by a different name. For example, in looking at what is supposed to be a healthier version of packaged noodles, Fooducate picks up on autolyzed yeast extract…which happens to contain monosodium glutamate, or MSG.

One of the downfalls of Fooducate is in the comparison of ingredients; sometimes the difference between one “good” food item and one “not so good” food item is a grade of “B” versus “B-”. The differentiation can be due to something as minute as a 20 kcal per serving difference, so you really have to decide for yourself if that matters. An extra 3-5 minutes on a walk can burn that extra 20 calories, right?

Another downfall is that the substitutions are not always found to be suitable. For example, Fooducate will suggest an apple instead of, say, a CLIF bar or some other performance bar. Depending on what the buyer plans to do, say go on a 2-hour hike, perhaps an apple is not a substantial enough option, nor will it hold up outside a refrigerator forever. Perhaps suggesting other better bar options (because let’s face it, people are going to eat those things whether we like it or not!), or options for making an easy to go sandwich would be good.

Fooducate does not let a person look up foods in advance of going to the grocery store, because you need the bar code. Unless you just want to look at foods you already have in store in your home and see what you might need to get rid of or buy a better version of it for next time.

Overall, this application is free for the I Phone, and is well worth having if you are the kind of person who questions the value of the products you are buying at the grocery store. My advice is to buy the products without bar codes as much as possible anyways so you don’t have to worry about too many added ingredients. These items fresh, colorful and are typically found around the grocery store parameters.


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