/ Food & Drink, Technology

Does technology help you make your food choices?

salt overspill

The Consensus Action on Salt and Health (CASH) group has produced a SaltSwitch app to help you work out if you could reduce your salt consumption. Do you use tech to help with your food choices?

I went through a stage of using one of the popular fitness and nutrition apps to keep an eye on what I was eating. You simply plug in your daily intake of food and your output in terms of exercise to work out if you’re consuming the right amount of nutrients in your everyday life.

I really enjoyed keeping this diary and it made me realise just how many snacks I was having throughout the day. While I predominately like lots of healthy snacks, I soon realised I was over doing the sweet treats and my sugar intake each day was above what it should have been.

The SaltSwitch app

We’ve invited CASH to share some of their research into salt levels previously on Convo. At Christmas, they revealed the hidden salts lurking in stocks and gravies and previously shared the hidden salts of take away foods. And our recent cornflake taste test revealed while that Kellogg’s has reduced its salt levels, it’s still the saltiest in our cereal bowls.

After 10 years of campaigning, we successfully called for front-of-pack traffic light labels to help you make your food choices. The initiative is being rolled out across supermarkets and brands and will enable you to see at a glance which products have warning signs for you to watch out for. And if you want to take this idea a little further, you may well be interested in this latest app.

Now the idea behind CASH’s free SaltSwitch app is that it allows you to scan the barcodes of around 90,000 food products sold across major supermarkets. Once you’ve scanned, you can see if there are healthier alternatives with less salt content.

CASH looked at examples of the most popular foods eaten by several different age groups based on the National Diet and Nutrition Survey and compiled ‘typical shopping baskets’ to show how the app could help.

128 bags of crisps

For example, based on types of foods eaten by a student (18-22 year old), a shopping basket of higher salt products can contain up to 58g of salt, while that of a mother (30-39 year old woman) can contain up to 64g of salt – the equivalent of 128 bags of crisps.

If these groups were to make some simple switches to lower salt options, the shopping basket of the student could be reduced to 22g and that of the mothers’ could be reduced to 18g of salt, the equivalent of just 36 bags of crisps.

Will you give the SaltSwitch app a try or are there any other apps you use to help make informed choices about your nutritional intake?


We need to stop thinking about salt and start considering the sodium content of our food, because salt is not the only source of sodium. For example, monosodium glutamate is often added by food manufacturers.

One way of decreasing sodium is to switch to a low sodium equivalent of salt. These typically contain less than 50% of the sodium content of ordinary salt. An easy way for food manufacturers to cut the sodium content of their foods is to switch from salt to a low salt substitute. I don’t know how many do this.

I notice that under the new food labelling scheme ‘salt’ has replaced ‘sodium’ [likewise ‘sugars’ for ‘sugar’ and ‘saturates’ for ‘sat fat’] . In the light of what you say above, this might not be a good move. The new term for ‘Guideline Daily Amount’ is now ‘Reference Intake’. I think most people could understand the original phrase but I’m not sure the new one makes as much sense.

Here is a report from last June about the new food labelling scheme that John refers to: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-22959239

I agree that it is not very clever to replace the well known and easily understood ‘Guideline Daily Amount’ with the unfamiliar term ‘Reference Intake’, which seems to be change for the sake of change. Replacing sugar with sugars is reasonable because it represents added sugar and those sugars present in the other ingredients.

I have written my own app that is even more effective at reducing salt and sugar intake. I simply scan the barcode of any processed food and it displays:

“What were you thinking? Prepare your own – it’s healthier, cheaper and you can add as little salt and sugar as you need.”