FoodSwitch App

A new app keeps you more informed of your dietary choices, especially when it comes to your favorite packaged foods. FoodSwitch can tell you, for instance, whether one protein bar is healthier for you than another.

The app works like this: when you open it, you can scan the barcode of any food item you wish to know more about. The app reveals the food’s “Health Star” rating that scores each food’s nutritional value between .5 stars (unhealthy) to 5 stars (healthiest option).

The app also provides the ratios of fat content, saturated fat, sugar, and salt. When a user is thinking of purchasing a food item, the app employs a system of red, green and yellow “traffic lights.” When a food that has more than the daily recommended allowance of say sugar, then a red light appears. When the sugar content is relatively low, a green light appears.

Another interesting feature is that you can use a filter called “SaltSwitch” which notifies you of sodium content. While overall a product might be low in sugar and fat, the sodium level could be quite high. Filtering products for sodium content helps notify you that the product is unhealthy for your specific dietary needs.

FoodSwitch identifies similar foods that are healthier, if you want recommendations. Users can also compare multiple brands of products in the same category in order to choose the healthiest option for themselves.

The app relies on crowdsourcing to expand its database of food items. Since manufacturers are constantly changing ingredients and options, it’s the most efficient way to keep the app up-to-date. This is especially helpful because many consumers shop for specialty foods that aren’t necessarily carried in large chain grocery stores.

The app currently has a database of 268,000 products, and more are added in real time. According to the company, 20 percent of the packaged foods in the US turn over every year, so constantly updating the database is a must.

While FoodSwitch operates in Australia, New Zealand, the U.K., India, China, South Africa and Hong Kong, it got its start in the U.S. where the food supply is the most extensive and diverse of any country.

“The US food supply is so large and so unique because this is a great country of immigrants,” says FoodSwitch collaborator and Northwestern Medicine cardiologist Mark Huffman. “Whether it’s South-Asian foods or Ethiopian grocery stores, we’ll be able to capture that scope, size, and detail.”

The app is free and available in Apple and Google Play stores.