Regardless of your diet or lifestyle, navigating a grocery store and figuring out which products are the best for you can be overwhelming. There are so many products and they aren’t always transparent in the marketing either. Whether you have food allergies, are taking certain medications, following a strict diet, or are simply curious about different ways of eating, a trip to the grocery store can be anxiety inducing and potentially put you at risk. Let’s take a closer look at some examples.
If you have celiac disease, it’s imperative that you avoid gluten at all costs. Unfortunately, that doesn’t just mean buying gluten-free food at the grocery store. In fact, just because a product is labeled as “gluten free” doesn’t mean it won’t affect someone with celiac disease. This is because some products are subject to cross-contamination with gluten. Cross-contamination can occur at any point from when foods may be grown to when they’re processed, stored, prepared or even served.1 One thing that is important to look for on a product label is if the item was “manufactured in a plant that also produces or used on a machine that also processes wheat.”2 This tells us that there was definitely cross-contamination with gluten. Even though the food itself is technically gluten free, it would certainly affect someone with celiac disease or even a gluten allergy.
On a less serious note, maybe you just want to avoid products with added sugars to improve your health. Added sugar is sugar that is added to a product during processing or production, and is not naturally found in the product.6 For example, sugar that is added to orange juice before it is bottled up and shipped out to the grocery store is added sugar. Fortunately, we now have a new Nutrition Facts label that strictly states how many added sugars are in the product. However, not all products have this new label just yet. Additionally, sugar comes in many shapes and forms, so trying to decipher if your product has added sugar or not can be difficult if you’re relying on the ingredients list. Just to name a few, sugar can be found in the ingredients list as: sucrose, dextrose, maltose, galactose, high fructose corn syrup, coconut sugar, honey, agave, barley malt, syrups like corn syrup or rice syrup, molasses and fruit juice concentrate.
How Do We Know What’s Healthy?
Besides finding foods that fit your diet, knowing what’s healthy and what’s not can also be really confusing sometimes. There are a lot of words that get used on food packaging to make something sound better than it actually is. These words aren’t exactly regulated either, like “all natural” or “nutritious.” In fact, in 2011 a lawsuit was brought against Ferrero’s Nutella spread alleging that Ferrero’s website, advertisements and labeling suggested Nutella had health benefits for children.5 Even 10 years later, regulations that should help us to make informed decisions are lacking.
According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Food Labeling Guide, foods that are labeled “healthy” need to meet certain guidelines regarding total fat, saturated fat, sodium, cholesterol, vitamins and minerals, but sugar content is completely left out.4 This means that something like a juice box that has essentially no fat and is fortified with vitamins and minerals can technically be labeled as healthy, even if it has 20 g of added sugar (the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no more than 25 g per day for children).3
This brings us to the question: how do we know what’s really healthy? Unless you’re a health professional these days, it can seem almost impossible to truly know if we are making the right decisions when food shopping. That’s where technology comes in. Technology has the power to make healthy living easier for all of us, regardless of your health and wellness knowledge. So how exactly does this technology work?
Can Technology Help With Our Diets?
Sifter.shop is an online tech platform for health and wellness that allows you to essentially sift through products based on your needs and preferences and then buy those products online. You can sort products based on allergens such as dairy, peanuts or soy, medical diets such as heart health, diabetes, bone health, or celiac and lifestyle diets such as vegan, vegetarian, DASH, FODMAP, kosher or keto and much more. You can also sort through products based on responsible practices like fair trade or find products that won’t interact with prescription medications you may be taking.
When using Sifter, you can create multiple profiles for you and other family members or create category profiles so you can save your favorite items and easily refer back to them. Additionally, you can find recipes you like online, put the URL in the RecipeSifter, and discover ingredient options that are consistent with your diet preferences. It will also tell you if there is anything in the recipe that is in “violation” of your requirements.
“Sifter’s technology makes it amazingly simple to discover and buy products that fit your diet, medical needs and lifestyle,” said Judy Seybold, MS, RDN, chief nutrition officer at Sifter. “Our algorithms were built collaboratively with health professionals, web developers and retail experts to provide an unprecedented shopping experience, rooted in science.” By adhering to the latest scientific principles, evidence-based research, U.S. government regulations, and the latest health policies and standard of care practices in dietetics, Sifter can organize products based on a wide variety of diets, allergens and food concerns like medication interactions or ethical practices.
How Can You Benefit From Using Tech As Part of Your Dietary Plans?
When you use Sifter to find products that meet your needs and preferences, you can feel confident and safe knowing that you’re discovering products that fit your lifestyle. Let’s say you have celiac disease, so you need to find products that you know are free of gluten and any potential cross contamination. Also, you prefer to buy products that have responsible practices, such as grass fed or fair trade.
To search for a variety of products, you’ll want to use the “Browse Products” option and select your filters. First, you’ll want to select “Celiac (no gluten)” under “Health Diets.” From there you’ll find hundreds of products that can safely be consumed for someone with celiac disease. You’ll also be able to find some blog posts that give you some ideas for recipes or more information about the diet you are “Sifting.”
Sifter recommends using as few tags as possible for the best search results. So from here it would be a good idea to choose a tag from the “Responsible Practices” section, and then you can sort through a smaller batch of products. If you know that you want a particular item like meat, you can also select that from the “Aisles” filter at the top. With specific, but few filters, you’ll still be able to sort through a variety of products whereas over-filtering can leave you feeling like there aren’t enough options. Go ahead and give it a try yourself!
When you use Sifter, you’ll see that buying foods that you can and want to eat shouldn’t be a hassle. You don’t necessarily have to have allergies or a medical condition to use it either—it’s for anyone who wants to eat a certain way or is curious about certain products. Let the technology behind Sifter do the hard work of sorting through thousands of products and finding the best ones for you and your needs. Sifter makes healthy living easier so you can spend more time doing things you enjoy, rather than worrying about what to buy at the grocery store.
1 Eating, diet, & nutrition for celiac disease. Nih.gov. Accessed March 23, 2021. www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestive-diseases/celiac-disease/eating-diet-nutrition.
2 Leonard MM, Cureton P, Fasano A. Indications and use of the gluten contamination elimination diet for patients with non-responsive celiac disease. Nutrients. 2017;9(10). doi:10.3390/nu9101129.
3 Korioth T. Added sugar in kids’ diets: How much is too much? AAP News. Published online 2021. Accessed March 23, 2021. www.aappublications.org/news/2019/03/25/sugarpp032519
4 Center for Food Safety, Applied Nutrition. Guidance for industry food labeling guide. Fda.gov. Published May 2, 2020. Accessed March 23, 2021. www.fda.gov/regulatory-information/search-fda-guidance-documents/guidance-industry-food-labeling-guide.
5 Rutkow L, Vernick JS, Edwards DM, Rodman SO, Barry CL. Legal action against health claims on foods and beverages marketed to youth. Am J Public Health. 2015;105(3):450-456.
6 CDC. Get the facts: Added sugars and consumption. Cdc.gov. Published February 25, 2021. Accessed March 23, 2021. www.cdc.gov/nutrition/data-statistics/added-sugars.html.
Dr. Nicole Avena is a research neuroscientist and expert in the fields of nutrition, diet and addiction, with a special focus on nutrition during early life and pregnancy. Her research achievements have been honored by awards from several groups including the New York Academy of Sciences, the American Psychological Association, and the National Institute on Drug Abuse. She is an assistant professor of neuroscience at the Ichan School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, in New York, NY and is a visiting professor of health psychology at Princeton University in New Jersey. Dr. Avena has written several books, including What to Eat When You’re Pregnant and What to Feed Your Baby and Toddler. She regularly appears as a science expert on the Dr. Oz Show, Good Day NY and The Doctors, as well as many other news programs. Her work has been featured in Bloomberg Business Week, Time Magazine for Kids, The New York Times, Shape, Men’s Health, Details, as well as many other periodicals. Dr. Avena blogs for Psychology Today, is a member of the Penguin Random House Speakers Bureau and has the No. 2 most watched TED-ED Health talk, “How Sugar Affects Your Brain.” You can follow Dr. Avena on Twitter (@DrNicoleAvena), Facebook (www.facebook.com/DrNicoleAvena) and Instagram (@drnicoleavena), or visit www.drnicoleavena.com.