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This Free App Knows Exactly What's in Your Food

Oct 27, 2014
TIME Health
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A new food database three years in the making is trying to change the way you eat.

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) today launched EWG’s Food Scores: Rate Your Plate. The website rates more than 80,000 packaged foods from 1,500 brands, with criteria like nutrition, ingredient concerns, food additives, and how processed the product is. And a free app offers on-demand info at the smartphone scan of a barcode.

Some databases only consider nutrition information found on the label. But this one offers a more in-depth view of what’s in our food—from contaminants like BPA in canned foods, mercury in seafood, antibiotics in meat, arsenic in rice and pesticide residues in produce, to food additives, like preservatives, artificial and natural flavors and colors, low-calorie sweeteners and fat replacers.

More positive scores were given to foods higher in protein, fiber, omega-3s, and minimal processing—foods “closer to what you might find in your kitchen than what you might find in a chemical plant,” said Ken Cook, EWG’s president and cofounder, in a statement.

Each product falls somewhere on a 1-10 scale, with 1 being the best possible score and 10 being the worst. Only 18% of the products fell into what EWG called the “green zone,” while 57% were in the yellow-to-orange range and 25% were at the very bottom.

A full 58% of products tested contained added sugar, and 46% had natural or artificial flavors—the components of which are considered proprietary and don’t have to be disclosed. Organic packaged foods had an average of 9 ingredients, while convention foods had an average of 14.

“In many cases what we see on offer in in aisle after aisle of the supermarket doesn’t really qualify, in our view, almost as food,” said Cook. “It’s a series of packaged products that convey salt, sugar and other ingredients that often have very little to do with nourishment and everything to do with exactly what Americans want to avoid.”

The highly searchable database also includes an interactive calculator, which spits out personalized nutrition values based on your age, sex and life stage, and lets you sort products by whichever scary additive you're concerned about this week. Want to know what's really lurking in that cheese-dusted foodstuff on sale at the supermarket? You can play with your food here.

Read next: 5 Best Fitness Trackers for Around $50

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