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They are called Yuka, MyRealFood and ElCoco and are the holy trinity of mobile applications for reading food labels . If you still don't know them, I can only think of two reasons: you live happily oblivious to social networks or you don't have teenagers swarming around you. Since September, the boom in these applications - and their number of downloads - has not stopped growing. And if nothing remedies it, I'm afraid they will be the subject of a conversation from here for a couple of months at Christmas Eve dinner. "Grandma, I don't eat this nougat because Yuka has given him a 30/100." At the time.
How do they work?
They are free applications that turn our phone into a scanner, like in the supermarket checkout. The difference is that when you bring the phone closer to the barcode, the price of the bar does not appear, but rather an assessment of whether it is good or bad .
Yuka or the skate made app
Yuka tops the ranking with the number one downloads in the Health and fitness category. One more example that the most popular applications do not have to be the most reliable or rigorous.
How does Yuka calculate the score? 60% of the grade values the nutritional quality measured by Nutriscore, the famous nutritional traffic light . To begin, we assume that 60% is valued with an imperfect tool that still needs to adapt to the Mediterranean diet , as the Ministry of Health publicly acknowledged last November 2018. And if they were only guided by Nutriscore, it would still have a pass. The problem is that in Yuka the other 40% of the note is calculated according to two other highly debatable parameters: the additives (30%) and the ecological character of its ingredients (10%). I say debatable because the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) considers additives safe in the permitted doses. And yet in Yuka they talk about additives "without risk", "limited risk", "medium risk" or "high risk". According to them, due to "independent studies."
On the other hand, 10% depends on whether the product is organic or not. Let's not combine churras with merines. There is no evidence that bio or eco products are more nutritious. An eco product may be more sustainable, but it is not necessarily healthier . Bio cookies are made with refined flour and sugar ... and they are still cookies.
Skating in Yuka? For example, they qualify as "mediocre" some sardines in olive oil. Instead, they consider "excellent" a supposed vegetable paste based on refined flour in whose small print we find a measly 2% tomato and 5% spinach.
MyRealFood or how to raze in a few weeks
In number 2 of the download ranking is MyRealFood, the application of nutritionist Carlos Ríos , promoter of the #RealFood movement in Spain. With more than 1.2 million followers and a bestseller behind him, Carlos has the merit of having expanded the generational limit in dissemination by opening his eyes to young people (and not so young).
This app is a variant of the Nova system that classifies food according to its degree of processing . Nova is a somewhat complex system because less processing does not necessarily make food healthy and vice versa. MyRealFood goes beyond Nova and, based on its own criteria, classifies the food as "ultraprocessed", "good processed" and "real food". Although this classification has been accused of reductionist, I think that as an approximation it can be interesting. In my opinion, what tarnishes this application is the classification of additives as harmless or controversial when in reality all are safe. I agree with my colleague Carlos that some additives are not necessary, but putting the focus on them can generate unnecessary distrust in the consumer.
ElCoco: will the last be the first?
The ElCoco application is the most prudent and rigorous of the three. And perhaps for that reason the least explicit. It is based on the one hand in the Nova system and on the other in Nutriscore, which being so far the best we have, is still not a perfect tool. The advantage, and also inconvenient, is that ElCoco does not get wet. At the moment it does not offer its own assessment but only the results of Nutriscore and Nova, in an objective way, for free interpretation of the consumer . My question is: is it simple for the consumer to interpret and combine both results? Juan Revenga, another fellow nutritionist and disseminator appreciated for his rigor, collaborates with this application and tells me that they are currently working on their own algorithm, transparent and based on evidence, that makes the results more "digestible". Hopefully this new version, which Juan says will only be based on scientific criteria, can see the light soon.
Conclusion: Are these applications useful?
In my opinion, if they help us learn to read labels, if they fulfill an educational function, they can be another tool. But if they become a simple machine of truth to compulsively analyze the linear or if they make us dependent on an application, unable to think for ourselves, I think we are going wrong. Ideal solution? It is difficult, but I think it would be interesting to act where all consumers really arrive, with or without application: in the food containers themselves . A system like that of Chilean black stamps, pointing out products high in calories, saturated fats, sugar and salt could be useful. And by the way, I would put the batteries into the industry. That an application with 100,000 downloads qualifies its star product as mediocre, the industry can affect it. But that your product has black legends in the container as if it were a pack of tobacco, and that this is seen by everyone, it may impose a little more.
Consultas: email@example.com and @Papel_EM
- Last week you talked about different types of sweeteners such as white, brown sugar, agave syrup or brown sugar, but you didn't mention honey. Is honey a healthier sweetener?
- Last week I voluntarily decided not to get into the honey garden because I appreciate my life and in this country touching honey is almost worse than touching Iberian ham. But since you insist, I will tell you that I have two news about honey. And both are bad: One: honey contains between 75% -85% sugars, depending on the variety. Sugar considered free sugar by the World Health Organization. And two: there is no scientific evidence that honey raises defenses or that heals colds. Honey is a sweetener. Of natural origin? Yes, but sweetener like the others. If we have the flu or a cold, beyond softening the throat and offering comfort, little can be done for our poor souls. Who wants to eat honey, eat it, but without attributing supernatural benefits.
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