A barcode that says a lot

Un code-barres qui en dit long

Photo: Valerian Mazataud The Duty
One can use his smart phone to find the nutritional value of processed foods.

Carbs, sodium, protein, sweeteners, trans fat or saturated fat : facing the lack of clarity of the labels on the food products, cellular applications are increasing in Quebec to help consumers make healthier choices by browsing the shelves of a grocery store.

Phone in hand, can now simply scan the bar code or nutritional label on the box of cereal, a pot of margarine and a tin of tomato sauce to gauge their quality and to unmask the ” bad ” ingredients.

“On a daily basis, I encounter patients with cholesterol or diabetes who say they don’t understand the labels of the products they buy. With all these numbers confusing, and many nutrients, which are difficult to find. These people need guidance, ” says Sonia Lachance, nutritionist in Granby.

With her sister Melissa Lachance, they have started the application, Zoom nutrition, which allows you to “popularize” and guide the consumers, here and elsewhere. Taking a simple photo of the table of nutrient values displayed on the packaging, the mobile app recognizes key words- such as lipid, sugar or sodium — and detect it quickly if a product is too salty, too sweet or too fatty. The result is presented in the form of a color code : green dots, yellow or red is displayed after the analysis of nutrients. We then found a council of Sonia Lachance, who is based on the criteria of healthy eating from the Centre of reference in nutrition at Université de Montréal Extenso, to help the user to decide. Cereal bars high in sugar but low in sodium and fat will be accompanied by a statement ” to be consumed with moderation “, while a bag of potato chips too oily and too saline to be considered as ” to be avoided “.

“The problem is that sometimes a product is too sweet, for example, goes with green dots, so as a good choice, simply because for the recommended serving size to the amount of sugar is not excessive. But the portions recommended on the packaging by the manufacturers are tiny and it is well known that people eat the double “, is concerned about the nutritionist.

Fill a void

A marketing strategy of companies that should take the edge off by 2022, a deadline set by Health Canada to force manufacturers to comply with the new labelling rules strict. The federal agency provides in particular, the addition of a symbol on the front of food packaging that are considered too high in sugars, sodium, and saturated fat. A measure that could encourage some to revise their recipes to not have bad press.

“It is filling a void with our application until that labelling is simplified,” says Sonia Lachance.

The sisters Lachance are not the only ones to give a boost to the consumers. Several applications have appeared in recent years. The French application Foodvisor for example — downloadable in Quebec — offers barcode scanning of products or to take a picture of his plate of lunch in order to analyse the nutritional value. Fooducate, which comes from the United States, also works by scanning the barcode, but does not recognize some products from quebec.

Yuka, another French application, goes even further by allowing, always by scanning its bar code, and analyze the nutritional value, the presence of additives, and the character that organic or not of a product. Launched mainly on the French market for the moment, the application has managed to reach 8.8 million users in a year. It should be downloadable in Quebec this summer, according to the head of press relations, Ophelia Bierschwale.

Simple accompaniment

“It is a way to learn about the food that fit with our company. We all have a phone in our pocket. With the amount of new food products each year, people do not know who to believe, how to find information and what to choose in order to stay healthy, ” says the nutritionist Bernard Lavallée.

However, it considers that these applications should remain an important support during a transition period. “People need to realize that they may of themselves make good choices while limiting the processed foods, lance-t-il. Ideally, what you eat should not have a barcode or tag, since you should mainly eat fresh products “.

This is a view shared by the professor of nutrition at the University of Montreal Jean-Claude Moubarac who believes that a larger work of education and awareness raising should be done as early childhood.

These applications should not replace the work of Health Canada, which should redouble its effort to enforce its new rules before 2022, he believes. “Health Canada is hoping that companies will begin to reform their products and make them more healthy before the policy comes into force. But the companies will probably wait until the last minute and come up with new strategies to play with the table of nutritional values. “

“The applications are addressed to an informed public that monitors its power supply. While the actions of Health Canada will inevitably reach all consumers, ” says Corinne Voyer, director of the Coalition Weight. It is also hoped that the Trudeau government will meet its election commitments in the area of food labelling before the end of its mandate.