When you reach for a granola bar as an afternoon pick-me-up, you can flip it over and see its calorie count, sugar content, and loads of other nutrition information. The problem is that the percent daily values for fat, cholesterol, sodium, and the rest are based on a 2,000-calorie-a-day diet, which isn’t necessarily right for many people. As the popularity of fitness trackers grows, people are getting a better insight into how many calories they burn each day, which opens the door for more personalized nutrition labels.
A startup called Sage has created a platform that does just that. To find out the you-specific details of over 2,000 products, you create a profile that includes your sex, height, weight, and activity level. Then you can start searching the database for that pre-packaged burrito or a handful of strawberries. If you click on the evol. cilantro lime chicken burrito, you’ll learn its price ($2.99), as well as its nutrient density and price-to-nutrients ratio (okay for both). That means you’re not getting that much nutrition for your three-buck burrito.
If you want to delve deeper, you can. Further down on the brightly colored grid is the calorie count (320), total fat (eight grams), fiber (four grams), and much more. Each one is in a different list, “Quick Facts,” “Get Enough,” and “Avoid Too Much.” This lets you easily see the macronutrients (fat, carbs, sugars, and protein), nutrient targets you want to make sure you’re hitting (fiber, calcium, iron, vitamin A, and vitamin C), and substances that used to be at the top of the erstwhile food pyramid (saturated and trans fats, cholesterol, sodium, and sugars). For the burrito, next to the fiber information is a little thumbs-up icon and the word “good.” The 320 milligrams of sodium has a thumbs-down and “Careful” warning next to it. The percentages next to each nutrient are tailored to your specific dietary needs.
If you’re wondering how much time you need to spend in the gym to burn off that burrito, the dashboard has that information, too. Apparently it takes 18 minutes of swimming each to counteract the calories in a cup of yogurt, a granola bar, and two oranges.
The system isn’t flawless. For one thing, the product data is pretty limited at this point. Searching for ice cream brings up cream cheese, iced tea, and nothing else. And while you get an in-depth picture of each product separately, there’s nothing to tie it all together. It would be nice if, when you add foods to a “Collection,” you could get a sense of what you’ve been eating all day long. Instead, you’d need some sort of spreadsheet to enter in your sodium count, if you’re really concerned about consuming too much. Plus, while you can mark off if you have an allergy or following a special diet, there isn’t a way to customize the system more. Sage calculates your calorie count, and you can’t alter it if you’re dieting, for example.
If Sage adds more products and functionality, it could become a powerful tool for making smarter food choices.