There are a lot of smartphone apps on the marketplace that allow you to track calories and other nutrition information, as well as exercise and weight, in order to achieve a healthy lifestyle. Fooducate (available for both IOS and Android devices) is unique in the category for one big reason: it assigns letter grades to different foods, and suggests better (healthier) alternatives – a boon to diabetics like me.
Unlike other “diet apps” that focus mainly on losing weight, Fooducate helps individuals alter their eating habits in order to adopt a healthier lifestyle. The interface is similar to other popular apps like MyFitness Pal and Lose It! and includes a handy barcode scanner that allows you to immediately upload nutrition information, as well as a tracking system for daily calories and weight loss, customizable goals, and a veritable wealth of helpful information on food quality.
I recently purchased a prepackaged salad from Safeway, assuming it would be a healthy lunch choice. And then I scanned it into Fooducate, and was dismayed to see a letter grade of C+, much lower than I’d been expecting. In the app, clicking on that item’s grade brings up a list of information explaining why it received the rating it did, good or bad. Using my Safeway Farms Santa Fe Chicken Salad Bowl as an example, Fooducate warned me of the following:
- 1 tsp. of added sugars per serving
- More than 20% of daily saturated fat
- Salty! Has over 20% of the daily max
- Contains sodium benzoate/benzoic acid
- Contains phosphoric acid
- Highly processed!
- Has EDTA, on FDA’s toxicity watchlist
Yikes! There were a few good points: my salad was a good natural source of iron and calcium, and naturally high in vitamins A and C. But clearly, it was not a very smart choice for a healthy lifestyle. Click on any of those bullet points and Fooducate breaks it down for you even further. For example, under Highly Processed!, it says
If you’ll take a look at its ingredient list, you’ll discover new words to add to your vocabulary. Many of these ingredients are required to increase the shelf life of the product and improve the flavor that disappears when food is not fresh.
After reading all that, I tossed the salad (pun intended) and opted for an Oven Roasted Chicken Salad from Subway instead. (Fooducate grade: B+). And that perfectly sums up how incredibly useful this app is. It has also inspired me to quit buying Fresca (D+) and choose regular salad dressings over those that are fat-free (seems counterintuitive, but as I learned, “A fat-free salad dressing is actually a bad nutritional decision. You see, a little bit of fat goes a long way in helping the body absorb the nutritional goodness of the salad. This is because some vitamins are fat-soluble.” That leads to a longer, more in-depth article on Fooducate’s blog, another nice feature of this app.
I track my meals on Fooducate, and am able to pull up lots of useful information at the end of the day: calories consumed vs. those allotted based on my current weight and long-term goals, and other nutritional information that helps me control my diabetes (including daily consumption of carbs, sugars, fats, protein, dietary fiber, vitamins, potassium, iron, etc.). It’s all broken down in colorful, easy-to-read pie charts, and you receive a daily food grade based on your caloric choices. Very cool. And because the app keeps a running tally, as long as you enter your meals in a timely fashion, you can make adjustments as needed throughout the day – a great tool for keeping you on track. When inputting exercise, you have a drop-down menu from which you can select from dozens of different activities, including hiking, table tennis, and – ahem – “moderate” or “vigorous” sexual activity. Whatever you’re doing, Fooducate will help you track it and figure out how many calories you have burned.
This very handy app is not without its flaws, of course. The food database isn’t nearly as extensive as MyFitness Pal’s, meaning you’ll likely need to make a lot of manual entries (a time-consuming process that requires access to nutritional information from other sources). At least MFP allows you to enter the ingredients in a custom dish and will automatically calculate the nutrition info, a feature that would be greatly helpful. Are you paying attention, Fooducate developers? And there are occasional inconsistencies when using the barcode scanner; information does not always match the product label, though it’s usually within the ballpark.
Overall though, the good far outweighs the bad. For pure diet tracking, MyFitness Pal has an edge. But for steering you toward a healthier lifestyle, Fooducate more than lives up to its name. It’s not edible, but I give it 4 knives.