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Sugar Salt Fat

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Last week I wrote a tweet about an idea for an app that would help people better understand food labels.

Sugar Fat Salt on Twitter

To find out about the potential of this idea, I felt I had to make a mini plan.
Something to discuss with people and get feedback on. So here it is.

Stimulate better eating patterns, by improving the understanding of what we eat.

Obesity is getting more and more of a problem.
This is a health risk for them and expensive for society.

Platform that makes it really easy to understand how healthy a product is.


Eating healthy is (or at least feels) complicated. It seems that everything you eat or drink is unhealthy. If you eat or drink something, someone will say “research shows that this is bad for you”. Food labels are difficult to understand. As I’m writing this, I’m drinking “Multi fruit” juice, the label says: per 100ml, energy kJ 159 / kcal 38. To be honest, I have no idea if that is good or bad, and like most people I don’t care enough to do real research on it.

Labels are not the only option for knowing what is in the product. Food labels are created by the producer of the product, but improving the food labels to be easier to understand is against their interest. Why would they want to highlight any negative qualities of their products? Thankfully we can provide other channels to provide this information. For instance, a supermarket could provide this information, but they also have an interest in selling as many products as possible. So for me, it makes the most sense to have a neutral company/party to provide this information as a service.

The idea

  1. A tool on your mobile phone that helps you to quickly compare products and find out which one is healthier.
  2. A way to continuously collect information on the health of all products.

Mobile phone tool

This is the easy part, relatively speaking. You take a picture of a product, a label, or you type in the name and you will quickly see an easy to understand label and contextual information that helps you understand how healthy the product is. Also you can compare product X with product Y and see what product has a better health score for different qualities.

Collecting information on the products

My idea is to create a simple game that improves your understanding of what you eat, and also generates interesting data for the platform.

It is inspired by projects like Zooniverse (help process scientific data) and  (invent actual cures by doing a puzzle). Here are some sketches to show you how it could work:


Why sugar, salt and fat?

  • Everyone knows those are bad
  • Everyone knows what it is
  • You can get a feeling for a product based on 3 qualities,
    but if you would have 10 it would feel overwhelming.

Why a game?

  • Generates traffic to platform
  • Generates interesting data on perception of products
  • Is engaging, you have to think about the product in order to win.

What is needed?

  • Money
    • It costs money to build something like this
    • I belief the platform should be profitable. This way investments can be made to keep the platform up to date. The money should not come from food producers or governments. So This way it will always be independent.
    • Possible forms of income:
      • Paid app and/or in-app purchases
      • Part of it can come from non-food sponsors. For instance a fitness brand or a tech company like Google, that just wants to be associated with something positive.
  • A team to do this
  • More ideas on how the platform could work. Here some more ideas I had myself:
    • Product pictures and information. From:
      • Existing databases of products.
      • User generated content. Users could be able to take pictures of products, and add them to the game. Perhaps they can earn points with it.
    • More information. A product page with a wiki and information generated by the game can be the starting point.


So what do you think? And can you perhaps help me with this? In order to make this conversation public I suggest using twitter, replying to @ideagrowr. But you can also e-mail me or leave a comment here.

Idea Growr is a free Android app that helps you keep track of your ideas.
You can use question sets to help you grow your idea. Download it here:

Google Play - Idea Growr



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5 thoughts on “Sugar Salt Fat

  1. Sjanine Hendrikx

    First of all, nice mini plan! Here are my thoughts:

    I really like the comparing of products but I think it’s not interesting to compare the same kind of products. We all know that pizza is unhealthy so I think the app shouldn’t give us the feeling that one of the two pizza is ‘ok’ to eat because the app suggests it’s the most healthy one. Maybe comparing a pizza with a ‘healthier’ meal might be an idea.

    I’m not sure if fat, salt and sugar are the right nutrients to gain awareness. You say that we all know sugar, salt and fat is bad. But that’s not entirely true because we need these nutrients everyday (especially saturated fat).
    Maybe it is interesting to make a personal profile with the amount of calories you can have every day and use the Dietary Reference Intake system to check how much of your daily calories a product is (devided in carbohydrates, fat, saturated fat, proteins and fibers).
    This is based on my own research but I’m just a designer so I think it would be a nice topic to discuss with a nutritionist.

    I also love the idea of user generated content. I think you could do a lot of interesting things with the collected data!

    Looking forward to read more updates!

  2. Julius

    Disclaimer: This comment is ‘thinking out loud’ and I did very little research of any kind.

    Thanks for the feedback. I am keen on the title Sugar Salt Fat, so I hope I don’t have to drop that just because there are some facts that don’t fit with my plan..

    Seriously speaking, my first goal is to come up with the absolute simplest version of a tool that has all the fundamental mechanics for it to work.

    That there are different types of fat is difficult for people to grasp (it is for me at least). I wouldn’t want to confront a user with that knowledge if they only want to eat healthy. Maybe I need to better split the two target audiences:

    1) Users providing content, playing game, adding to wiki, etc.
    2) Users who use the app to make healthier choices.

    Those could be very different people. For players of the game, making things more realistic (and thus complicated) could be just a higher degree of difficulty in playing that earns them more points. So there might be a level where you have to pick the product with the least saturated fat (or was it the most..).

    In the end my primary goal is to help people make healthy choices, not to educate them. I think this might become an important distinction.

    I agree on your comment about the pizza and that it is more interesting to compare different type of products. I will use the old ‘It was just a dummy mock-up image’ argument here :).

  3. Jeroen

    Hi Julius,
    very interesting idea! but I agree with the person above me that you can’t reduce the eating problem of the western world to sugar fat & salt – the problem is closer to calorie intake (we’re simply eating too much), so I think a more interesting idea would be to compare similar food options that may or may not be close together in energy content. For example: if i want a snack, does it matter if I eat an apple or half a bag of crisps? If I want to drink something, should i take a glass of coke, milk or orange juice? You might expect that orange juice or milk would be the better option, but the contain as much calories as coke, so if you’re looking to lose fat, it doesn’t really matter.

    So my suggestion: boil it down to real-life choicees people have to make everyday and can recognize (de voedingscentre and dietists always talk in completely unrealistic amounts like ‘a hand of crisps’- people eat half or perhaps even a whole bag of crisps, not a handful), and try to let the comparisons show surprising stuff like the coke/milk thing above.

    Another great thing you could accomplish would be giving people a sense of what a calorie is, so they can do something with the info on the food packages. Help them develop a feeling for how many calories are ok for a certain food item. How much a snickers bar is in terms of energy expenditure of your Sunday soccer match, how much fries you burn away when you run a marathon. So people get a sense of calorie dimensions.

    I can really recommend the book ‘wat de weegschaal niet vertelt’ by Bart Braun (disclaimer: the author is a friend of mine), which would give you a quick rundown on this topic. You can borrow it from me if you want, let me know.

  4. Julius

    Thanks Jeroen! All valid points.

    “but I agree with the person above me that you can’t reduce the eating problem of the western world to sugar fat & salt”

    I think this is the tricky part. It might not be possible to reduce such a big problem to something simple that works on all levels. Can this sugar-salt-fat-idea (or perhaps sugar-salt-fat-calories) have a real impact on people making healthier choices? If it does not, then it is of no use. But if it does, even if it neglects other parts of the problem it might be something worth while to start with.

    “So people get a sense of calorie dimensions. ”

    I agree, the goal for people in the supermarket is to make it easier to understand how healthy a product is compared to another product. But I would hope to bypass the learning of calories for people in the supermarket. It would be simpler if the tool could just translate the product realistic intake portion to something people understand and a have a feeling for. And I agree that ‘a hand of crisps’ is not a realistic portion 🙂

    Also, assuming I can make a design for a simple first prototype, I have to think of a way how to create this. It would probably involve getting some money for the project in one way or another.

    There first needs to be a sound (mini) plan before any funding can happen. These comments do help with that :). I think the biggest risk for the project is that it becomes too complicated and it wants to achieve too much in the first version.

  5. Marcel Wiedenbrugge

    Hi Julius,

    I think you should think about a tool that helps you to better manage your food intake based on:

    – you current weight / length – determine whether you are already obese or not
    – essential intake on a daily basis (vitamins, fat, what is it you need)
    – current intake (what you eat and how does that relate to what you need)
    – how to improve you eating behavior (feeling good about eating less or seeing the impact of 1 hours spors activities on calories)

    Make the interface very simple and make sure you build an experience database, so people can measure their own progress.

    If the app helps you to change behavior, it would be useful.


    Marcel Wiedenbrugge

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