Shopwell is a free iOS app that helps you maintain a healthy diet and is especially useful if you are allergic to or want to avoid certain foods. The app delivers ratings for a wide variety of food items specific to your profile, helping you find healthier alternatives to foods you like to eat.
Shopwell bills itself as "like having a personal dietitian in the palm of your hands" but it's more like having a monitor dispatched by your personal dietitian or doctor. The app has you set up a profile, where you tell it the types of things you do and don't want in your diet. In order to create a useful lists to shape your diet, it's probably best that you don't wing it but seek professional medical advice.
After entering your age range and gender, Shopwell asks what your goals and conditions are. Here, you can tell it, for example, that you are concerned with weight management, are intolerant to lactose or gluten, or have high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or type 1 or 2 diabetes.
Next, you'll list what you want in your diet, from calcium and fiber to low saturated fat and low sodium. After entering your Wants, you then tell Shopwell your Don't Wants, such as artificial sweeteners, high-fructose corn syrup, and trans fats. Lastly, you'll enter foods you must avoid, such as gluten, peanuts, and shellfish. After tapping your way through these screens, tap Save in the upper-right corner and you can begin using the app.
There are four ways to navigate the app. On the My Lists page, you'll find lists you have previously created on the Shopwell Web site. Unfortunately, you can't create a list on the fly using the mobile app. These lists can be useful, because the Shopwell site has a Trade Up feature, which features healthier alternatives (going from Sunkist to seltzer, for example). From the Browse page, you can shop by category, and there is also a Search page for looking up a specific item. When browsing a category, products by default are ordered by highest score. Tap on the Highest Score button to sort by most relevant, product name, or lowest score.
The fourth and final navigational tool might be the app's most useful: scanning. The app features a bar-code scanner, which returns nutritional information about the product in your hands. It's great while grocery shopping and taking stock of your pantry, although I was disappointed to discover that the app does not save your scanned items.
Each food item you arrive at (via browsing, searching, or scanning) displays a color-coded number rating, where low numbers in red are weak matches, numbers on either side of 50 in yellow are dubbed medium matches, and numbers approaching 100 in green are strong matches. Each product page in Shopwell has links to the product's ingredients and nutrition facts. Healthier alternatives to a product are listed at the bottom, each with a number rating.
Shopwell claims to have more than 120,000 products in its database, but you are still likely to stump the app. I scanned a box of Triscuits, which went unrecognized. And I searched for Arnold 12-grain bread and that, too, was not recognized.
For people with serious health concerns or conditions, the Shopwell app makes a helpful shopping companion. And if you spend some time on the Shopwell Web site, it's likely you'll find some healthier alternatives to the foods you regularly buy and eat by using the Trade Up tool. As Daniel Terdiman points out in his informative write-up of Shopwell, the algorithm is brand-agnostic, meaning the service delivers unvarnished nutrition advice and doesn't steer you toward certain brands and manufacturers.