Scan for healthier food

Updated on: Dec 25, 2015
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FoodSwitch app, which suggests healthier choices, makes its way to India

There’s no going back on processed foods. With metro and rural lifestyles morphing at a fast pace, supermarkets flush with packaged edibles are here to stay and lure. That these products have high levels of salt, sugar, saturated fat and kilojoules is no secret. But their convenience outweighs nutrition concerns making them popular buys.

To help consumers make a healthy choice comes a free smart phone application that could potentially lessen the ill effects of processed foods. Besides, its mass use could nudge food companies to submit to better and healthier manufacturing practices.

Launched this month in India, FoodSwitch is an extension of an app already available in several countries including Australia, New Zealand, Britain and South Africa. Developed by The George Institute for Global Health and Bupa Australia, the aim is to support healthier food choices and help prevent diet-related ill health. “The goal is to improve the quality of food supply. We had been wanting to do this for several years and once scanning became really good and easy, we managed to develop this app that can empower buyers to make better decisions,” says the brain behind the app, Bruce Neal, a senior director at The George Institute, Professor of Medicine at the University of Sydney and Chair of the Australian Division of World Action on Salt and Health.

The consumer just has to download the app on a smartphone and use it in a supermarket. The chosen food product is scanned using the mobile's camera and FoodSwitch tells you its health weightage ie how high the food is in salt, fat, sugar and kilojoules. It also suggests healthier alternatives in the same food category, thereby comparing the product of one company with the other.

Traffic light labels

Once a food item is scanned and it comes up on its database, FoodSwitch throws up more information in the form of a colour code about the nutrition in the product. Through the red, amber and green code you can tell what is healthy.

“In the ‘Traffic Light’ labelling mode, you’ll see colour-coded ratings to let you know if a product is low (green), medium (amber) or high (red) for key food components (total fat, saturated fat, sugar and salt). Red is less healthy, amber is ok and green is a healthier choice,” the institute explains.

“We used the same colour coding that is used in England for monitoring food,” says Neal and hopes that recommending one food company over the other will help those lagging behind improve their products.

For food not on their database, the app requests you to participate in the crowd sourcing to capture new data. This helps research to support healthy changes to the food environment.

“Even small changes to our diets, such as consuming a little less salt and added sugar, and eating less fat (particularly saturated fat) and energy (kilojoules) could prevent many health problems in India including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity and Type 2 diabetes. This could, in turn, help reduce the incidence of heart attacks, strokes and some cancers,” says the institute engaged in conducting scientific research in public health and medical sciences.

Published on March 10, 2018

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