Unless you're a morbidly obese New Yorker who can't stop drinking too much soda without government intervention, shopping for food that's good for you shouldn't be difficult. And yet, it's easy to get lost amid the sea of misleading marketing claims, such as "heart healthy," "free range," "organic, " or "low fat," that cover the packages of our food in our diet-obsessed era. Fortunately, a virtual nutritionist is standing up for the everyday grocery shopper – and it fits right in your pocket. With a database of over 200,000 unique products, Fooducate, an app for Android and iOS devices that utilizes barcode scanning technology, makes shopping for healthful food easier than ever. Just scan the barcode of any food package with your smartphone's camera, and you're presented with a fact page containing a letter grade – think report card – based on the product's nutritional value, with "A" signifying the most healthful and "D" denoting the downright bad for you. Along with the grade, detailed health facts are listed for the scanned item. These info snippets include "high sodium alerts," which reveal certain canned vegetables to be worse than candy, as well as whistle-blower warnings about unregulated labels such as "All Natural," which doesn't necessarily mean organic, and "Whole Grain," a government certification that actually requires just 51% of a product's flour to be whole grain.
We were surprised to find Skippy's "No Trans Fat per serving" claim to be a bit misleading, since the peanut butter actually contains hydrogenated oils, which means it has some trans fats, just not enough to count as at least 1g per serving (so keep your portions small). Or Kashi's TLC Bars, which were called out as being high in sugar and highly processed, earning them a "C+." (You'll also find that most of what's listed after clicking on the "Alternatives" tab has about the same grade – health bars just don't fare well on the app.)
Fooducate seems to let no regulation loophole go unexposed, which is reassuring, and you'll frequently be surprised by how much of your food is assumed to be healthful simply because of the package presentation. Just be warned: Fooducate is addictive, and perusing your pantry with the app in hand might turn into a depressing experience as you slowly realize all the food you'll need to give up. [Free; fooducate.com]