We are living in an age where you can download an app for virtually anything. Some help you sleep, some allow you to meditate and others even tell you when you are ovulating. But amidst the craze, every now and then you come across one that is really useful…
In 2012, The George Institute released FoodSwitch, a smartphone app for Global Health and Bupa as a part of the Healthy Foods Initiative. To gain insight into how the app works and what it aims to achieve in the wider Australian community we spoke to Michelle Crino, The George Institute’s database manager.
“FoodSwitch is a smartphone app that allows you to scan the barcodes of packaged foods at the supermarket or at home, using the camera on your phone,” Michelle explains.
“The aim of FoodSwitch is to help consumers become healthier by helping them know if their packaged food is nutritious and whether there are better alternatives.”
There is definitely a calling for FoodSwitch today. With so many supposed “health food” products all over the supermarket that feature cheeky buzz words such as “superfoods,” “gluten-free” and “fat-free,” as well as clever marketing campaigns, the general public is simply confused. Many food products that advocate a healthier lifestyle are simply misleading, usually containing inordinate amounts of sugar, preservatives, industrial oils and other ingredients that wreak havoc to human health.
This is where FoodSwitch comes in. By simply scanning the barcode of a food product (healthy or not), it tells you about the nutritional components of that item and what healthier alternatives there are for that particular food.
“FoodSwitch was developed to help Australians improve their diets by allowing them to understand more about the nutritional value of food,” Michelle says.
She explains that there is currently no easy method to help the average Australian shopper interpret front of the pack labelling, making reading and understanding nutritional information difficult for many. Additionally, the Health Star Rating system is only present on a small range of foods, so shoppers don’t have a trustworthy and holistic system that allows them to make healthier food choices.
“It is important that consumers are presented with information in an easy to interpret format. FoodSwitch fills this gap by allowing consumers to easily scan the barcode of the product of interest and get the nutrition information broken-down,” Michelle assures.
Becoming healthier and achieving your wellbeing goals are not as difficult or painstaking as some may think. Michelle assures that making just small changes to our diets, such as consuming less salt and added sugar and eating less trans fats as well as limiting overall energy (kilojoules/calories) consumption could prevent many health problems, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity and type 2 diabetes, which could reduce the incidence of heart attacks, strokes and some cancers.
This is where FoodSwitch comes in again, as it conveniently allows people to switch to better foods that will allow them to easily make these changes.
Michelle admits that shopping in the supermarket these days while aiming to select healthier foods is always a challenge.
To ensure that shoppers are choosing the most nutritious foods possible, Michelle recommends selecting fresh produce, or picking foods that are as close to their natural state as possible and keeping an eye out for food products with added sugars or higher proportions of added sugars, which is not always always labelled on the pack.
“Look at the ingredients list,” she warns. “If sugar is labelled in the top 3 ingredients, it is best to avoid.”
Another health tip is to select low sodium (salt) alternatives, to avoid foods high in trans fats and of course minimise the amount of discretionary or junk foods that you consume.
FoodSwitch is not just about losing weight, but rather advocates a holistic approach to helping Australian people become healthier and make better food choices.
“Our goal is to empower individuals by providing access to information and innovative tools,” Michelle exclaims.
“FoodSwitch is a key step toward helping Australians make healthier food choices – starting in the supermarket aisle!”
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