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'Fooducate' phone app helps decipher food labels

April 6, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
Many people read labels to make smarter food choices, but it's not always easy to decipher nutrition facts. So can a phone app change the way you eat?

Self-proclaimed techie Hemi Weingarten felt compelled to use his skills after his wife came home with what he called glow-in-the-dark yogurt for his kids. He found the ingredient list contained scary artificial ingredients and couldn't tell if it was really a good choice.

This led to his creation of Fooducate -an iPhone app, web and blog site to help those who aren't quite nutrition savvy.

"I'm a big foodie. I've always been, but when my children were born, and I have three kids, that's the first time in my life I started to take notice of nutrition," said Weingarten. "I can tell you that trying to understand the nutrition facts panel here and the ingredient list is not a simple task, especially if you're in a rush, you want to get home."

He's right. From having to converting sugar grams to teaspoons, or scouring the ingredient label to steer clear of trans fats or chemicals, it's nice just to click a button and get a wealth of information.

"On the front of the package the manufacturer's going to tell you what's best about it. Fooducate tells you if there's hidden sugars, hidden trans fat, if there's controversial food additives," said registered dietician Patricia Bannan. "So it gives you quality information you might not be aware of."

Bannan said Fooducate was created by experts who breakdown key info that consumers need to know.

"We actually have an advisory board, one of the leading professors in nutrition in this country. He created a whole science called nutrition profiling, and we're basing our algorithms on his work to gather with dieticians," said Weingarten.

Use your iPhone to take a picture of the barcode of a product. You'll get a letter grade, the pros and cons of the food, along with a better alternative choice. Take energy bars for example.

"The best-scoring energy bars get a C+ so all the energy bar companies, if your product gets a C+ its actually good. Some of them are just as bad as a candy bar," said Weingarten.

There are two things to note. If a product doesn't contain a barcode, it won't work for the program, although some of the best products don't wear labels at all. Secondly, this is an app free to iPhone users. But if you have a PDA or Blackberry, at least for now, you're out of luck.

"We have an Android version in development coming out very soon. So all you Android users, hold on, we'll be there," said Weingarten.