Sunday, June 24, 2012

Favorite Tools: Great New App to Help With Making Healthy Choices

Nota Bene: I apologize for the lapse in articles these past two weeks as I have not written as many I would've liked. Sometimes it takes me longer to write these when I'm feeling under the weather, so stick with me- Thanks for your patience!

I stumbled across this app for my iPhone & was pleasantly surprised at how helpful it was in educating people about healthy food choices. With food manufacturers using tricky language & inventing new names on a daily basis (all with the FDA's & USDA's support, mind you), it can be more than baffling attempting to decipher packaging on foods. Many people see the words 'all natural', 'healthy choice', 'reduced'-this-and-that, etc. & think that they are making wise & thoughtful choices in regards to their health when in fact it is just not that simple.

Fooducate is not just for the iPhone, but for Android & online use as well. It works by scanning a barcode or searching for a product, the user is instantly able to see information about the product (good & bad) whether its present on the label or not. This information is gathered by requesting it from the manufacturers & also gathered research by the creators of the program (with the help of the users too!).

At first glance this application is exceeding my expectations: not only does it deconstruct the label information on products, but it provides educational tidbits so that the user can learn what better choices to make in the future. I for one am quite excited to share with my loved ones, particularly my boyfriend who gets frustrated reading labels. Who hasn't been vexed thinking they've made wise choices, only to find out later that these selections weren't in the best interest of their welfare?!

Fooducate is a wonderful tool that provides letter grades to foods as well as a scale to quickly see how products rate. Also available are options for users to leave comments & rate like it or don't like it for each product. Users can see alternatives for similar foods if found that a particular choice is not as healthy as it might have previously seemed- a thoughtful addition that can lead to the discovery of new brands & even new foods! Not only does fooducate score foods, but clearly illustrates poor, decent, & exceptional attributes of foods. It explains why particular traits are beneficial or not, explaining the effects on the body. For example, if you look up Jif Peanut Butter (a popular brand & my boyfriend's favorite much to my dismay & grumblings...) it is rated a C+ mainly because it contains hydrogenated oils which adds more saturated fats than it has naturally. Here's a partial glimpse of the screen: (As always, click on the picture to enlarge)

One major downside to Fooducate is that is so focused on calories & fats, that it rates some foods lower than it should be. I know this is the western nutritional view, which I respect & use its information, but the west has the uncanny ability to compartmentalize foods & even our bodies so that it misses it as a whole. Nut butters may be higher in fat but this doesn't mean its off limits, even if you're trying to lose weight. Some fats are necessary for our bodies to function, some fats are good for you, some fats are stored while others are metabolized directly into energy. These are all things that need to be taken into account which is why I love traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) so much- calories & fat contents are only partial information when it comes to foods so don't panic if a food you scan pops up with a low score.

Another thing you should be aware of when using Fooducate is that it can miss harmful ingredients. For example, I knew from past experience that Hidden Valley Ranch Dressing has MSG in it as well as other harmful ingredients. (See my article on MSG & Misinformation on labels) I was very surprised that this was not disclosed when I searched for the dressing online. I found most had a score of B & higher! I clicked on Hidden Valley Home Style Light Ranch & this is what I saw:

Fooducate gave some helpful information about the product, but I saw nothing about monosodium glutamate or the other names it goes by. The site is good about explaining why an ingredient is healthy or unhealthy, how to choose better options, & even the history or origin of the product, so I was quite surprised that it did not mention MSG at all. Check out some tips I have for choosing good foods & avoiding unnecessary ingredients at the end of my article on MSG. In general my rule of thumb is that if a product has more than 5 ingredients or ingredients that I cannot pronounce or do not recognize, it should be avoided. The big truth is that all these additives are just so unnecessary. But as Maya Angello once said, "When we know better, we do better".

Otherwise, I think Fooducate is a valuable tool to utilize in the grocery store or in the pantry to help determine healthy options. As busy people trying to preserve our time & most important our vitality, it is sometimes easier to overlook labels & remain blissfully unaware of hidden dangers our foods might possess. But remaining unaware, is not always blissful & is still ignorance no matter the name. We can remain blissfully ignorant or wait till an untimely illness forces away our self-imposed thoughtlessness. Choose to embrace healthy choices in the present because by embracing healthy habits, you embrace & cherish your own life- and a better life you will have as a result! I think it is a journey for all of us, but remember that little steps in the right direction are better then no steps at all!