One of the food tools on my iPhone is the Fooducate app. It’s a free app that allows you to scan any food with a bar code. If the food is in the database, you get nutritional information on that food including Fooducate’s letter grade (A through D), product details with information and warnings, and alternative foods that might be a better choice. The app also allows users to compare two similar foods by scanning their barcodes.

The grades given are helpful, especially because the app gives the range of grades that the product could have. For example, a box of Barilla Plus Farfalle pasta receives a grade of A-. The app makes it clear that the grade range for this type of product is A- to B-. I can see immediately that this is one of the highest graded products in its category. One piece of information mentioned for this specific product is that “Multigrain is NOT necessarily whole grain.” It’s not necessarily, a warning to stay away from the food, it’s simply giving some information that might be useful.

Information like this is helpful, but it should be used with your knowledge and commonsense — especially if you’re comparing foods. I compared two hot chocolate mixes that I have in my kitchen, Ah!Laska Organic Cocoa and Trader Joe’s Hot Cocoa Mix. Trader Joe’s got a slightly higher grade (C+) than Ah!Laska (C). However, the Ah!Laska is meant to be mixed with milk, which would certainly change the nutrients in it and probably increase its benefits. The Trader Joe’s is meant to be mixed with water. Comparing the two products before they are prepared isn’t accurate.

Of all the foods I scanned in my kitchen, the only item that received an A grade was the batch of organic carrots in the crisper (although I didn’t find any indication that a food being organic is taken into evaluation in Fooducate’s grading system).

Another feature in this app is the information for dieters. The app gives each food a FoodPoints value based on fats, carbs, fiber and protein. Although Fooducate doesn’t mention Weight Watchers anywhere in the app, these are the factors that Weight Watchers uses to determine the points that foods are given in its Points Plus program.

I compared the FoodPoints that Fooducate gives to several products in my kitchen with the Points Plus value that Weight Watchers gives them based on the points calculator included in my Weight Watchers iPhone app. The points that Fooducate gave on the products were the equivalent of the Weight Watchers points. For people following the Weight Watchers program (like me), this could be a helpful feature. For dieters not following the program, I’m not sure how useful Fooducate’s dieter information will be.

If you have an iPhone, download the Fooducate app and play around with it for a while. See if you find the information a helpful part of your decision-making process or if you’d rather make decisions about the foods that you buy based on your own analysis. The app is free, so you won’t lose anything by giving it a try. 

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Robin Shreeves ( @rshreeves ) focuses on food from a family perspective from her home base in New Jersey.

iPhone app: Fooducate
Fooducate’s scanner gives instant information about foods to help you “eat a bit better.”