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Tap an app to find healthier food

By Cecilia Cho

Even those committed to locally grown, organic food must occasionally navigate the middle aisles of a grocery store. Now there’s an app to make it easier to find healthier choices.

Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens recently developed a mobile app called Green Light Foods as part of Pittsburgh’s Let’s Move program. Collaborating with Carnegie Mellon University students, Red House Communications and Wahila Creative, Green Light Foods allows you to scan any barcode on a food product. It then breaks down the nutritional information in a way that is easily understood by children and adults.

By making healthier nutritional choices, consumers may also be making better choices for the environment. For instance, many highly processed foods contain high-fructose corn syrup, which has a negative impact on the environment because of the excessive use of chemicals and energy consumption in the growing, processing and packaging of the products, according to Michael Pollan, author of In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto. So, if the app points consumers away from products with high-fructose corn syrup, it is better for individual health and the environment.


The Green Light Foods app displays nutrition facts in an easy-to-read way.

“We started the Green Light Foods apps because we found a lot of people are very confused by nutrition labels and it’s really hard to compare these labels,” said Richard Piacentini, executive director of Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens. “We’re trying to help people make decisions on what are some better choices.”

When users scan certain items, they are able to see which products have the best nutritional profiles through representation of the colors on traffic lights. The traffic light colors indicate how much fat, saturated fat, sodium and sugar are in each product.

If the product is not a part of the national food database, users can manually enter in the information. The app will translate those values.

“We try to make it super simple for people to use. That’s why we use the traffic light,” said Piacentini. “People can say ‘oh, it’s green, which means it’s okay’ or ‘it’s yellow, maybe we shouldn’t eat too much of that,’ or ‘it’s red, maybe we shouldn’t want that.”

The app was designed with families in mind so that parents can learn how to make the best decisions when it comes to healthy eating for themselves and their children.

Piacentini said the app’s popularity in the Pittsburgh area is leading to national marketing and availability.

Users can download the Green Light Foods app for free from their mobile device’s app store.

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