Food scanning apps operate based on the food ingredients listed on the package. While this approach provides an estimate regarding the FODMAP content of a product, it is less accurate than Monash’s method of laboratory testing for FODMAP content. FODMAP levels can vary greatly depending on ingredient selection and food processing methods, meaning it is not possible to accurately determine the FODMAP content based on an ingredients list alone. In fact, the wide variation in the FODMAP content of manufactured foods led us to develop the Monash University Low FODMAP food certification program. This program makes it easier for consumers with IBS to identify low FODMAP food products in the supermarket.
Let’s take a look at some examples of foods, and compare how a barcode scanner might work compared to results from our Monash University laboratory.
Food processing can cause otherwise low FODMAP foods to become high FODMAP, and vice versa. Some examples include legumes vs canned legumes, plain rice vs rice cakes and silken vs firm tofu. Unfortunately, a barcode scanner cannot pick up on the effects of food processing, as ingredients lists remain near identical.
If we take a closer look at tofu, we know that there are differences in FODMAPs due to the effects of pressing and straining. Firm tofu removes the FODMAP containing liquid, while they remain in the silken tofu. Our lab has tested these two products to provide very different ratings, silken tofu has an overall ‘red’ rating while firm tofu has a ‘green’ rating.
The ingredients list below shows what makes up silken and firm tofu. A barcode scanner will alert users to the ‘soy bean’ listed in the ingredients, and unfortunately provide misinformation about the FODMAP rating. This misleading information is problematic, particularly for those vegetarians/vegans following a low FODMAP diet, who use firm tofu as an important source of protein.
It is essential to look in the Monash University low FODMAP App for serve sizes, as many foods that are considered ‘high FODMAP’ can be eaten at smaller portions safely. For example, canned chickpeas, a healthy source of protein and prebiotic fibre, can become problematic at higher portion sizes (84g), but can be eaten safely at smaller portions (46g).
Let’s take a look at the ingredients list of a food we all know and love – chocolate.
Our Monash University app tells us that we can safely eat 20 grams or four squares of chocolate safely in a serve, and moves into the amber category at 30 grams. A barcode scanner doesn’t pick up on this, and will instead provide alerts on the milk derivatives, cocoa butter and cocoa mass. Not only does this cause confusion for consumers, but it may cause unnecessary over restriction of foods (relief for the chocolate lovers out there!). We are working hard to ensure all foods in the app have upper and lower limits, so that you know how much of a food is safe to eat.
In Australia, the information for barcode scanning apps are predominantly crowd-sourced or use third party databases where the manufacturer isn’t required to upload their product details for the purposes of these apps. This doesn’t necessarily mean that every food or ingredient on a barcode scanning app is incorrect, but it does cast doubt on the accuracy of all of the information provided. As there is no regulation over the information provided to these apps, ingredients may be missed, particularly when products get reformulated and change their ingredients.
There is a lot of confusing information regarding the low FODMAP diet online, and we understand the diet itself can be challenging. While barcode scanning apps may appear convenient, sometimes convenience is not the easy way out and may in fact cause more confusion than its worth. The Monash University low FODMAP app translates highly sensitive food analysis techniques to ensure you are provided with most up-to-date and reliable FODMAP database. Our app, used in conjunction with a FODMAP trained dietitian, and completing our online patient course, aims to empower individuals with IBS with knowledge to make informed decisions about their diet and health.
1. Australian Food and Grocery Council (2015). A Smart New World. Canberra. 1: 19.