Nutrition

Why nutritional scan apps are not compatible with full meals

Feuilles
  • 29/05/2018
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Nutritional scan” apps like Yuka are not compatible with full meals. Although the initiative is a good one, there are several shortcomings associated with the analysis of the algorithms within the app. Consequently, the results which are produced by the app are not necessarily very accurate.

  1. First of all, the applications base their calculations on the daily nutritional recommendations of the National Nutrition and Health Program (PNNS), which outlines a balanced diet based on the components of the meals consumed on that day. These recommendations are therefore difficult to compare with the nutritional properties of a single food, as it is unlikely to be the only food consumed that day.
  1. In addition, the application eliminates any notion of a portion. In essence, 100g of pizza is judged in the same way as a 100g of crackers. However, a portion of pizza may well be as much as 300g whereas a portion of crackers may well be as little as 10g. Consequently, measuring the portion of a meal based on 100g of a specific food will unlikely produce accurate data.
  1. Furthermore, the results provided by these applications only ever comes from the nutrition listings on products – e.g. carbohydrates/100g, sugar/100g. However, it is well known that carbohydrates are not homogenous in quality and in nutritional value.

 

Consequently, they vary enormously according to their origins and the process of industrial transformations. But within the “carbohydrates” listing we have no way of establishing whether these carbohydrates are “good” or “bad” carbohydrates. For example, ultra processed corn-crackers receives an excellent aggregate score as it does not include any sugar. You may well think “Great – I can eat as much of this as I like!” In reality this is not the case. While the hyperglycemic nature of this product is not an issue, adding the notion of an index relating to glycemic load would certainly make more sense. The same principle applies for fats and proteins.

 

  1. What about full meals, such as Feed.? As they are complete meals, it is not necessary to judge the nutritional performance in the same way that you would judge that of an individual food. In order to make the comparison legitimate and scientific, we should analyze all of the elements of a conventional meal – e.g. starter, main course, side dishes, and desert. We would then look to create an average score after taking into account the size of each individual component within the meal. Analyzing a meal based on the same criteria of an isolated food, while eliminating the concept of quantity and quality, renders the analysis completely biased.
  1. Additives – in the context of powdered meals, for those that are not organic (and who do not have all the vitamins and minerals provided by the “natural” ingredients), it is necessary to add vitamins and minerals in the form of chemical or natural compounds. These “additives” are often criticised, nevertheless, they play a vital role in fighting against vitamin and mineral deficiencies. They are, in fact, necessary for the use of macronutrients, the production of energy or the detoxification of the body. These elements, present in our complete meals, are judged in the same way as any other additives by nutritional scan applications.

 

Thus, the list of additives goes on and the aggregate score (wrongly) decreases. It is therefore necessary to separate the additives nutritional interests from others. These applications are not currently able to do this. Furthermore, the interpretation of certain additives as “flavors” unfortunately misleads consumers. There is never any distinction in the term which can mean “natural flavors” or “natural fruit flavors” which evidently hold very different qualities.

In conclusion, the information extracted from these applications for common and isolated foods can be quick and fun indicators. However, they should be taken with a pinch of salt and should not be used when looking to measure portion size, the nature of the main ingredients or the processed nature of the food. For complete meals, the information that these apps ask for is not applicable and therefore all results are rendered inaccurate.

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