Consumers, and especially dieters, will tell you that navigating food labels can be a nightmare. Deciphering food claims can be daunting. Understanding ingredient lists is nearly impossible. Trying to identify additives and preservatives requires a PhD.
But a new food website and food app aims to make food information simple to digest.
“Ask the Sage Project” aims to help consumers really understand the food choices they make. The website shows you a food choice, say strawberries (brand name specific), and floats simple pieces of information – calories per serving, number of ingredients, how many badges (indicating positive food attributes) it has, whether it’s a good source of nutrients, whether it’s a good value at the price for the level of nutrition it provides, whether it contains specific allergens, and the specific nutrients it provides. You can navigate the site to look up a food by brand category or by product filter. But the website and app go way beyond that.
The website was developed in response to observations made by triathlete Sam Slover, co-founder and chief executive of Sage. He’d studied the food landscape that consumers have to navigate daily. Food labels assume we know a lot and can interact with a standard food label in a way that allows us to make informed decisions.
But there’s so much information on the label, often in tiny print, it’s nearly impossible to truly know what you’re eating much of the time. Food labels can also trick you into believing a food is healthy when it’s not. Consumers need clarity and this app aims to provide that.
It’s interesting that despite the popularity and the number of downloads of food and fitness apps, research seems to show that for most people, early interest wanes fast. Apps lose loyalty for a variety of reasons, including:
- Difficult to use
- Lack all the information you seek
- Not personalized enough
- Not the magical tool for habit change
The Sage app offers useful and unusual information on some 20,000 food products. It also gets “very diet specific,” so you can create a diet or identify foods that correlate to your dietary preferences. A portion of food will be framed as “percentage of total daily calories.” If you are really into shopping healthy, then its partnership with Whole Foods means you have access to 7,000 items sold in the new 365 chain rolling out nationwide.
How does the app work?
Use your email to sign up for Sage on your phone or computer by visiting the website. The program will allow you to take a tour of the site to understand how diet and data specific it is. Then you can engage with its functions:
- Enter any food restrictions you have
- Enter any personal preferences you have (don’t like dairy, love fruits, interested in high fiber foods, etc.)
- Identify further restrictions like “no additives or preservatives”
- Enter height, weight, age, gender, activity level (they get very specific on exercise level)
- Choose a diet type based on whether you do or don’t eat animal-based foods
- Choose whether you do or don’t require certain certifications (organic, grass-fed, etc.)
- The app will try to identify even more preferences in terms of nutrient value (are you looking for specific vitamins and minerals), no added sugar, a short list of ingredients (clean label), high protein, etc.
- Indicate social and environmental “manufacturing” concerns from a checklist if they are important to you
- It will also tell you where the food is sourced from or a location of manufacturing for processed products
My personal dashboard and settings, which features all the food particulars important to me, included:
- Food items that help me meet daily vitamin needs for my age group
- Food items rich in minerals
- Affordable foods or good deals dollar-wise that meet my nutrition preferences
- Whole foods
- Processed foods that have few ingredients
- Foods with no “added sugars”
- Foods with no or limited added colors or preservatives
- Protein-rich foods
- My height, weight, age, gender, and very high fitness level
- No allergies to foods
- A pescatarian/vegetarian diet outline preference
- Low sodium, high fiber, low saturated fat, low added sugar food choices
- Seeking calcium-rich, vitamin D rich foods
Once I loaded this information, clicking on the “products page” showed foods that fit my personal dietary settings. Above each food was a clear indication of the criteria the food meets.
Credit: Amy Hendel/ Sage Project
For example, the app showed me that a single cup serving of Whole Foods brand vanilla non-fat yogurt has 110 calories, 11 ingredients, seven badges including probiotics, is a good source of minerals, high in protein, is kosher, gluten-free, vegetarian and pescatarian-friendly, fat free, bone healthy, and has low sodium. It is considered five percent of my total daily calories, and one serving is made up of 50 percent carbs, zero fat and 50 percent protein. It is also rich in vitamins A and C, with 20 percent of my daily calcium needs.
I would have to do 10 minutes of biking, or 16 minutes of dancing, or 32 minutes of yoga, or seven minutes of running, or seven minutes of jumping jacks, or 10 minutes of swimming to burn off the calories from this food. All of the exercise information is provided by animated food figures – adorable!
The good and the bad
- The graphics used are quite colorful and the app is very engaging and informative
- It will assign you total daily calories based on the information you load in
- It offers a great opportunity for families to learn nutrition in a fun way
- The total daily calories should be used as a guide, as it cannot scientifically calculate your basal metabolic rate
- You may find that the page on each food gives too much information
- The app will not tell you what to eat or what not to eat
- The animated exercise graphics are perfect motivators
- The app is constantly adding new brands and foods
Amy Hendel, also known as The HealthGal, is a Physician Assistant, nutritionist and fitness expert. As a health media personality, she's been reporting and blogging on lifestyle issues and health news for over 20 years. Author of The 4 Habits of Healthy Families, her website offers daily health reports, links to her blogs, and a library of lifestyle video segments.