Personal Tech For Women: 5 Things to Know About New, Smarter Food Label

Tuesday, May 26, 2015


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Some of us might spend more time at the grocery store scrutinizing the labels than actually putting food items in the cart. It’s difficult enough trying to determine what each ingredient means – propylene glycol monoesters – let alone the breakdown of nutrients, fat, carbohydrates, cholesterol, and protein. Stop the frustration. Now, a new web app is trying to make it easier to decipher jargon and pseudoscience, so you not only understand what’s going into your body, but how those ingredients affects it too. Here are 5 things you need to know about Sage – a smarter food label.

1. How it works

Available as a free web app (iOS and Android versions are on the way), Sage makes food data simpler and easy to navigate. In a nutshell, it aims to show you everything you wish a food label did. Start by clicking on “Product”. You can browse foods under featured brands (Amy’s, Dole, Trader Joe’s, Kashi, to name a few), or by categories such as bakery, canned, meat & fish, pantry or vegetable. For instance, select raspberry Greek yoghurt, by Maple Hill Creamery. The far left panel of the app includes a menu of options about the product, including nutrition, ingredients, info about the brand, and even the geography of the product – its country of origin, farm location, or the brand headquarters. 

2. More info through images

Developer and founder Sam Slover has made design just as integral as content – because, really, what’s the point of certified expertise if it’s too confusing to digest? Just like kids, adults respond to pictures too. On Sage, each product you click contains visualized info (who doesn’t love the simplicity of a pie graph?). Try cashew butter: you’ll see its calories based on specific serving sizes, the amount of exercise needed to burn it off, plus allergens and attributes – like gluten free, kosher, raw, etc. – all communicated through photos, graphics and minimal text. Going even deeper, Sage provides visual indicators when key nutrients get too high or too low, as well as a price-to-nutrient ratio that lets you know the amount of nutrients you’re getting per dollar you spend. But please note, this is not a calorie counter or nutrition-tracking app… yet.

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3. Personalization

Sage works as an interactive food-labeling tool that gets to know you – your background, dietary restrictions, and tastes – and then presents you with personalized information. As the website explains, that info includes “your correct nutritional percentages, products flagged for your allergies, and customized lists based on your diet, be it paleo, vegan, vegetarian or Kosher.” In the vein of Pinterest, the app lets users create visual collections of food products for their specific dietary needs or preferences that go beyond the standard 2000-calories per day regimen. Current collections include, Diabetes Superfoods and Eating Well While Traveling. Others suggestions: Best Post-Work-Out Snacks or Vegan Staples. 

4. Commentary 

As the consumer-led movement to create food product transparency pushes forward (think nation-wide campaigns to label GMOs), along with a collective desire to eat healthier, local food, Sage has arrived at the right time. The platform offers a kind of editorial of food data, whereas labels on packaged foods provide just a lump of text that lacks structure. Sage employs crowd-sourced info from a pool of registered dieticians and nutritionists that provide commentary on products – the benefits of flax seed oil, for example, additives to watch out for, and helpful tips on how to balance your diet.

5. Discover new products

As a database that contains a couple of thousand food products, Sage can help you discover new ones too. Rather than searching by product, you can also click “Explore” to find foods organized by “Sage Badges” that meet specific attributes and criteria. “Straight From the Earth” encompasses whole foods with little to no processing and no additives; while other badges include Heart-Healthy, Kitchen Staple, Kid Friendly, The Sweet Tooth, and likely a favorite, Healthy Fat, amongst many more. The app has also placed a priority on adding non-processed food items, such as fruit and vegetables, followed by U.S products from brands like Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s, for the health-conscious demographic who are likely amongst the first users of Sage.

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Melanie Sevcenko is a journalist for radio, print and online. She reports internationally for BBC World Service and Monocle Radio (M24) in the UK, and for Deutsche Welle in Germany. Melanie also reports for the online news source GoLocalPDX, in Portland, Oregon. Her work has been broadcast by CBC in Canada and the Northwest News Network, and published by Al Jazeera English, Global Post, Pacific Standard, the Toronto Star and USA Today, amongst others.


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