Bellevue Club member Carrie Roberts created her app, Sift Food Labels, with one question in mind: How many ingredients are found in our foods that are banned in other places? The information she found was so shocking, scary and frustrating that she eventually quit her day job as a marketing strategist and turned her attention toward educating people about what’s hiding in their pantries.
Carrie Roberts is a self-described data nerd.
So when she developed gestational diabetes while pregnant with her first son five years ago, she turned to research. To keep the disease under control, she began to monitor her sugar intake. In doing so, she dove deep into understanding the numbers and information found on nutritional labels.
“There are more than 100 words for sugar approved for use on our food labels in America,” Roberts says, which was frustrating for someone trying to eliminate sugar for a serious health condition. “Also, ingredients are listed in order of the amount present in the food, and some companies will use two, three or four different words for sugar so it’s not listed higher. What they’re doing is sneaky.”
This is where her obsession with ingredients really took off. She soon discovered hidden sugars weren’t the only problem.
“There are more than 3,000 food additives approved for use,” Roberts says. “And a lot of these additives are banned in other countries and recognized as harmful to people’s health.”
In her research, she found that 80 percent of food found in the average American pantry contains ingredients banned in other countries. And unfortunately, most of them are lurking in kids’ foods because of the colors or for the sweet taste—their taste buds are more drawn to that. Among the most harmful, she says, are the artificial colors and the long list of known carcinogens.
“I learned a ton in that time about food regulation and how lenient we are in this country. I assumed the FDA was regulating this stuff, but they aren’t, and a lot of it has to do with how much time and money the food companies are spending on lobbying the government.”
At the time, her only answer was to spend hours in the grocery store each week combing the ingredient lists of the food she was feeding her family. “And inevitably, I’d come home and realize I still missed something. There are just so many things to watch out for and so many tricks the food companies use.”
Roughly three years ago, after tons of research and reading, Roberts woke from a nap with an epiphany.
“There has to be an easier way to make healthy choices,” she says. Her immediate response was to search for an app on her phone. There was nothing. So she decided to develop one. Working in the tech industry for most of her career, she knew the possibilities were endless.
The result is Sift, an app and company she created with the purpose of informing consumers about what they put into their bodies. Right now, the app uses bar-code-scanning technology to list and flag ingredients. It also provides information about why the ingredients are harmful and banned in other countries.
“One of the most frustrating things is that the big food companies are already making products without these ingredients for other countries. But not here. They prioritize shelf life and production cost, but that comes at a different kind of price.”
The app also has a feature that allows you to follow ingredient-based dietary restrictions and plans, such as gluten-free, dairy-free, Whole30, FODMAP, Paleo and more. The feedback so far has been extremely positive, she says, and it’s only the beginning of what she has in store. Integrating artificial intelligence into the app is her next priority, and she hopes to eventually eliminate the need to scan bar codes.
“AI is something I’m really excited about,” she says. “It opens up many different paths to bring more information to shoppers’ fingertips with smart shelves, smart shopping carts and more.”
One of her other goals is to tackle the online-grocery-shopping experience. As someone who uses it frequently, she is consistently frustrated with some of the inefficiencies.
“It’s interesting to me that online shopping mirrors the in-store layout—you are literally shopping aisle by aisle. It needs to be rebuilt for the Internet. My question is, how do we think about using all this knowledge and tech infrastructure to create a seamless shopping experience that also educates the consumer?”
She says it’s not about classifying foods as good or bad. It’s about giving people more information in an efficient, easy way.
For more information, please visit siftfoodlabels.com or download the app on any smartphone.