Listen up, Big Food. Consumers are onto you. Government may be afraid of your power, but shoppers are getting fed up with your claiming that highly processed edible substances are as natural or healthy as fresh food.
For years, researchers have been pointing out links between rising rates of diabetes, obesity, cancers and heart disease and the big servings of fat, salt, sugar and chemicals dished out by the food industry. Consumer advocates have been asking for food labels that are user-friendly, informative and truthful.
Now shoppers have a powerful ally. Since the food industry, lobbyists and weak-kneed lawmakers refuse to acknowledge the impact of manufactured foods on consumer and environmental health, some concerned and creative entrepreneurs are bypassing them.
Here are some apps that will help you sort through the rabble and help you make health-friendly choices at the supermarket. All of them are free.
Fooducate is the brainchild of parents, dietitians and techies who understood that people do not have time to stand and scrutinize labels while hungry families wait to be fed. They developed a mobile application that will scan bar codes, show the good and bad of a product, do some comparisons for you, suggest better alternatives, give consumer tips you would never get from manufacturers, and educate concerned shoppers. As of the end of November, they had passed the 10 million mark in product scans. Users claim their food choices have improved because of Fooducate.
Honest Label is another scanning app meant to bypass the confusion of current labels. Using a red and green rating system accompanied by daily-nutrient-value bar graphs and ingredient warning systems, it makes quick and easy sense out of labeling confusion.
ShopWell scores foods on a scale from 0-100, based on your personal health needs. If you are training for a marathon, avoiding gluten, dealing with diabetes or looking for heart-healthy options, ShopWell provides a personalized list of products rated as best choices for you. Both Web-based and mobile options are available.
Australia’s Obesity Policy Coalition tried to persuade the government to adopt a mandatory traffic light system that would give foods green or red lights, depending on how healthy they were. The government toyed with the idea, then backed away. Traffic Light Food Tracker thumbs its nose at government timidity. It’s a little more complicated than Fooducate but offers similar advice.
These are only some of the choices, but they are a good starting place for anyone wanting to circumvent the confusing, misleading and inadequate labels currently available. Big Food will keep trying to lock consumers out of the knowledge loop, but they are up against an increasingly informed and persistent consumer base.
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Photo from Luis Argerich via Flickr Creative Commons