by Marion Nestle
Jun 4 2013

Questions about food politics: iPhone apps and phytonutrients

I’m always happy to answer questions dealing with issues related to food politics.  Here are responses to two that came in last week.  I’ll do another two sometime this week. 

Q1.  I was just introduced to your book, What to Eat, and I read it, cover to cover, thoroughly enjoying each area of the market.  I am emailing in hopes that you have a suggested iPhone App, which suggests or promotes healthy eating.  Not so much calorie counter Apps, but Apps which make suggestions towards healthier options or perhaps even suggests macro or micronutrients which we may be lacking based on the foods we are purchasing and consuming.  Any help is much appreciated!  Thanks!

A.  I’m a diehard BlackBerry user and haven’t a clue.  Readers: suggestions?

Q2.  I’m an NYU MPH student and will probably be taking your Food Advocacy class next spring.  I adore your blog and as of late have been especially appreciative of your Farm Bill breakdowns. (What a confusing document!)  I was wondering what your take was on the NYTimes article that appeared in the Week in Review on Sunday titled, “Breeding the Nutrition out of Our Food” by Jo Robinson.  Have we really been losing the phytonutrients in our food since we became farmers?

A.  Ms. Robinson, whose terrific new book, “Eating on the Wild Side” is out this week, collected data on phytonutrient (plant antioxidant) levels in wild foods and their bred-to-be-less-bitter supermarket counterparts.  The wild ones have more, but they usually don’t taste as good.  The idea that foods now are less nutritious than foods in the past fits conveniently with concerns about our industrialized food system.  But data on trends in nutrient content are difficult to come by (the methods change over time), and differences in health benefits are impossible to assess.  The bottom line: people who eat fruits and vegetables—even supermarket varieties—are healthier than people who don’t.  Would they be even healthier if the vegetables were more bitter because of the phytonutrients?  Hard to say.  I’m going to eat my veggies and not worry about this one.

  • Library Spinster

    FWIW I’ve found that, since being diagnosed with diabetes, I appreciate bitter vegetables more. In particular, I enjoy broccoli raab and use bitter melon in place of zucchini or chiles when I cook something for myself.

  • Christie Bales

    In regards to Q1, has an app that does almost what the reader wants. It’s very comprehensive and grades foods based on your own user preferences, e.g. avoiding GMO, sodium content. I love it. It’s available for iPhone and Android.

  • RE: q1. Try the Fooducate app – I’ve heard only great things (unfortunately, I cannot use it as it’s not available in Canada as of yet).



  • Marion,

    It’s time to switch to Android or iPhone…Fooducate is a free app that looks beyond the nutrition panel and also at the ingredients that make up a product.

    I was inspired to create Fooducate after I read your book “What to Eat” in 2007…

    Thanks for al you do!

  • michael janavel

    With your answer to the second question, you have lost all credibility with me.

  • Marj Immonen

    I agree with the previous commenter that your answer to the second question is a bit disappointing. However, you still have lots of credibility with me. There is considerable study these days on the relationship we have at the cellular and genetic level with the rest of nature including bacteria, fungae and plants. Food breeding has been primarily for disease and insect resistance, durability in shipping and storage and taste which has reduced the levels of plant components that may be valuable on levels with which we were previously unaware. There is a branch of the obesity study research that concentrates on food reward as a diet driving concern. For those of us who are super-conscious about food issues, this is less of a problem. For most of society, however, the food reward component of a food is very high on the list of reasons to select foods so that most eaters do not receive optimal food intake benefits.

  • Pierre

    with your answer to the second question, you displayed the intelligence and common sense that I trust and rely on.

    If the health-food flakes and the food-industry flacks alike are having conniptions, you are doing all right with me.

  • I agree with Marion on the 2nd question. Americans eat too few fruits and vegetables. Period. And, for some this may be a call to action, but for many people, I think they will just throw up their arms and say “Why bother? The fruit and vegetables are the same as the tasty crap since they have bred all the nutrients out. Might as well eat what I like.” Which is to say very few fruits and vegetables. Just more nutritionism to confuse the average person.

    As a cooking educator, I expend a whole lot of energy trying to get people to try new foods, particularly vegetables or whole grains. I don’t see any need to qualify that message with this information unless someone asks about it.

  • Fruit is great coz you can stuff your face and stay thin!! 😉 xxx

  • Suggestions for Q1: – an app that helps you pick the best produce. This helps to try new fruit & veggies and have a positive experience. It also gives an indication for pesticides.

    I second – this is a gamified calorie counter, but also gives you info about balancing food choices. – the mealguru helps you create healthy, balanced meal plans for each week.

    We are actually working on a recipe app that gives suggestions based on what you make every day. It helps you eat more healthy by getting the most out of your daily recipes. Eat with variation; nudge from packaged foods to fresh & seasonal ingredients; and save on money. Avoiding calorie counting and promoting fresh ingredients. You can subscribe if you want to be notified when it launches and suggestions are more than welcome.

    I hope these are some useful suggestions.
    – Leon, founder Meltingmint

  • Katherine

    The website for Center for Science in the Public Interest ( has a wealth of information about diet and nutrition, food safety, and politics.

    They have an iphone ap called “chemical cuisine” and it can easily be found in the ap store by searching that name. This ap provides detailed information about food additives and, in my humble opinion, is excellent and I don’t know why it only got a measly 3 stars.
    I am not sure if it is available for Blackberry or Android.
    Here is a link:

  • Tracy McMillin

    Hello Marion,

    Thanks for all of your hard work! I don’t have a smart phone but I do have a suggestion for Iphone aps. The Environmental Working Group ( publishes a site called They list the ‘clean 15’ fruits and veggies along with the ‘dirty dozen’ this is based on testing of residual pesticide levels as tested and determined by the USDA. I’m almost certain they have an ap. In fact I just checked – here is a link:

    Regarding question #2, in about 2006 one of the State colleges in Washington with a very large Ag program estimated there are as many as 5,000 phytochemicals in plants. We’ve only begun to scratch the surface. The article I saw was published in a magazine for alumni. Around that same time a research study came out of the UK that demonstrated organically grown produce contained on average 40% more nutrients, yet the actual potency of phytochemicals could very well be greater. We simply don’t know. I assume anyone reading this blog knows that phytochemicals are the plant’s version of pesticides/white blood cells. Unfortunately since then this same college has caved to pressure and has planted some of it’s research fields with GMO crops.

    Tracy McMillin
    Seattle/Spokane, Washington

  • Blinkyc209

    Thank you for starting this app! I find it very useful, it helps me make better choices! It has helped me see food in a completely different way! The grading system is a good guideline, but I must admit that I tend to rely more on the “why?” info to make decisions because the grading sometimes seems inconsistent with the info, like some products seem to be rated higher than they should be. Ex. Oscar Meyer Liver Cheese gets a B+, even though it contains questionable ingredients such as nitrites/nitrates and high sodium and saturated fat content. Maybe the products are graded within the context of their own categories? It makes sense that deli meats will always have high sodium levels and saturated fat, so maybe this item’s levels are just good compared to others in the same category. However, I learn so much more looking at the “why?” info than I would if I only paid attention to the grade, so it’s a good thing in that way. Thank you once again for this wonderful app 🙂