Smarter Eating With Smart Phones
These days, whether I’m walking down the street, riding the subway or even hosting visitors in my home, I’m struck at how the majority of people around me are glued to their smartphones. (Et tu, mom?) Once you achieve Peggle Master status and need some new electronic diversions to fill the dead space in your schedule, then, I figured I’d share the following list of apps (and the occasional website) that can help you become a better, more educated eater.
Know Thy Food
These apps and web resources are terrific tools for those of you interested in the provenance of your food in an attempt to eat locally and/or more sustainably:
How old is that head of lettuce you’re contemplating? And were those cherry tomatoes grown by a small family farmer or a huge agribusiness conglomerate? Harvestmark is a free online service that enables you to enter a 16-digit code from the sticker on your produce to trace fruits and vegetables bearing the Harvestmark logo back to their source. You’ll learn when and where that fruit or veggie was harvested, as well as information about the grower. In the event of food recalls, you’ll also be able to check easily whether the items in your fridge are affected. Harvestmark codes are showing up on more and more produce items; I even spotted the logo on a bag of haricots verts we got at BJ’s Wholesale Club last weekend. Just enter the product’s code on the Harvestmark website, or download their free iPhone app here (the Android app is apparently forthcoming) so you can scan the item at your grocery store before purchasing it.
Organic certification alone, unfortunately, says very little about the quality of life for egg-laying chickens producing the eggs we consume. So just how humanely treated are the chickens laying those organic eggs that you eat? The Cornucopia Institute has developed a thoroughly-researched organic egg scorecard that ranks a variety of national and regional egg brands. Not surprisingly, the best marks go to small, regional brands, and the worst marks go to the biggest, national brands (Horizon Organic, Eggland’s Best, Land O’ Lakes). While the more expensive eggs of happier chickens don’t necessarily translate into improved nutritional profiles, if the eggs are marked ‘pastured’ or ‘pasture raised,’ there’s a good chance that they may contain higher levels of Vitamin A and omega-3 fatty acids and lower levels of fat and cholesterol than factory-farm raised eggs. (Note that pasture-raised eggs will NOT be labeled “vegetarian fed hens”; that’s because chickens aren’t supposed to be vegetarians… they eat worms and grubs and all sorts of other bugs when left to their own natural, chickeny devices!)
It’s hard to keep up with the best choices in seafood, as we need to consider both safety (mercury and PCB levels) as well as sustainability (how over-fished and endangered is the species). Furthermore, it’s not enough to know what you shouldn’t eat when you’re standing at the fish counter of your local market; you need to know some good alternatives to those verbotten fish species that you can buy in good conscience. The Monterrey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch Sustainable Seafood Guide phone app (for iPhone and Android) does all this. Just enter the seafood name you’re curious about, and the app delivers a list of best choices, good alternatives and fish to avoid–including the name of the species as well as its place of origin. Click on each entry for an explanation of the rating and health notes about the safety of eating that fish. The app also features a sushi guide that classifies popular types of sushi fish into best choices, good alternatives and fish to avoid. Lastly, you can use the app to locate sustainable fish near you based on the reports of other users.
Grocery Shopping Guides
Fooducate is a fun new app for those folks who find a trip to the supermarket overwhelming due to too many choices and too many products making health claims. Rather than pay a nutritionist to go shopping with you, try using this app to scan the bar code of over 200,000 food items for an honest breakdown of its good, bad and ugly attributes. Each food gets a letter grade that you can compare to the average letter grade of other foods in that category, and the profiles offer warnings about product features that may have slipped by you, like excess sugar, lots of sodium, lack of whole grains, or the presence of ingredients you’re trying to avoid, like high fructose corn syrup or trans fats. Even better, the program offers similar product alternatives that may be more righteous than the food in question.
Is That Gluten Free? is my iPhone app of choice to identify gluten-free selections by brand or category for over 20,000 products. It also has a search function that allows you to enter the name of a product to verify whether it’s gluten-free. This is a great app for gluten-avoiders who lack confidence in their label-reading skills or people new to the diet.
Food Journaling for Weight Loss
Research shows time and time again that maintaining a food journal helps dieters lose more weight, and helps them maintain their weight loss, compared to not keeping a journal. Unfortunately, keeping a paper food journal is cumbersome and annoying, which makes long-term compliance difficult. But it’s much easier to keep a electronic food journal now that we’re all glued to our smartphones, anyway! The one I’ve used personally in the past–and that several of my clients are successfully using–is an app called My Fitness Pal—for iPhone, Android and Blackberry. It’s got an impressive database of almost 1 million packaged food and restaurant dishes that you can choose from to populate your journal, and allows you to log in exercise as well. The resulting daily tally of your net calories is charted compared to your calculated calorie budget for weight loss, enabling you to see trends in your intake over time. I found the app to be very user friendly–and somehow fun to use in an OCD kind of way– making it easy to maintain for longer periods of time. You can also sync it to your free online account, enabling you to keep track of your diet even when you’re sans smartphone (as if THAT would ever happen!).
Paranoid much? If so, why not download the government’s Recalls.gov app, available for the Android only (it figures), to get updates on the FDA’s latest food and drug recalls. After all, most products are recalled after you’ve already bought them–and are poorly publicized– making it difficult to be alerted to emerging safety recalls. What’s more, a quick scan of a barcode or typed-in product name alerts you to recalls issued by one of 6 government agencies across multiple product categories beyond just food and drugs, including cosmetics, motor vehicles, environmental products and general consumer/household products.Did you like this? If so, please bookmark it, RSS feed.