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Help the fight against obesity with the Fooducate Grocery Scanner Android app

by Caitlin M. Foyt

Nutrition labels might as well be categorized as a foreign language. They're not the most intuitive things to follow, and even when you can pick out a few facts and ingredients, it's often difficult to put this information in perspective. A great resource for anyone remotely interested in their health, Fooducate Grocery Scanner is a very helpful, thorough app that decodes what these cardboard boxes and aluminum cans are trying to say.

To get started, just use the in-app scanner to scan a product's bar code. Fooducate then taps into its database, pulls up the box of cereal or bag of chips you're looking at and gives you an evaluation. The app gives the product an overall letter grade, the product's highlights (the good ones and the horrifically bad ones), calorie information and even suggests better alternatives — similar, but more healthy versions of the same products.

To test this app, I picked a few products from my pantry and refrigerator and began scanning a bunch of bar codes. The app picked up on the more obvious brand name products, the things I bought at Trader Joe's and even some obscure foods I picked up at a locally owned health food store.

I learned a lot that both amazed and horrified me. For instance, my marinara sauce of choice contains high fructose corn syrup. It also pulled out a whole bunch of other stuff that was hidden in the fine print, such as the amount of sugar, salt, trans fat, additives, preservatives and food coloring that make up my food.

In the dozens of items I scanned, I only came upon one product that the app didn't recognize: a carton of West Soy soy milk. But, with more than 200,000 products, I think it's safe to say the app's database is extensive. Just to test the limits of the app, I also scanned soft drinks, juices, coffee beans and spices. These search results were much more sporadic — after all, they're not food.

My one complaint with Fooducate is that it made me feel a bit like I was a child being scolded — and not even in the way you might think. At one point, I scanned a bottle of natural cranberry juice, and the app suggested water as a viable alternative. The thing is, I'm on the lookout for juice. Of course water is an alternative, but water isn't going to do the trick when I combine the ingredients to make a bubbly cranberry spritzer.

All in all though, it's hard to complain about such a thorough app, especially since this is one I could see being used as a weapon in the fight against obesity.

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