Meet Spoonful: The Low FODMAP Scanner App
As someone who follows the low FODMAP diet herself, and who works 24/7 on educating the public about the diet through FODMAP Everyday®, we are always on the lookout for ways to make the diet easier. This is where a new company, Spoonful, comes in, with their low FODMAP diet scanner app.
Following The Low FODMAP Diet
Once you have an IBS diagnosis by a medical doctor, and the low FODMAP diet is suggested, doctors often tell the patient to “follow this diet” or patients are handed a sheet of paper that is most probably woefully out-of-date. What is a person suffering with IBS to do?
Monash University researchers developed the diet and their app has the most up-to-date information on what foods have been lab tested and what the lab results are for low FODMAP, moderate FODMAP and high FODMAP content. They, and FODMAP Friendly, also certify commercial products that have gone through rigorous certification programs. That leaves thousands of other products on the shelves that you might have a question about.
Picture that you are in the supermarket, holding a product in your hand and you want to know if it contains any high FODMAP ingredients. If it is not a certified product, by either Monash or FODMAP Friendly, then you are on your own to figure it out.
Enter Spoonful. The app scans products and provides instant results related to FODMAP content. We sat down to chat with the company cofounders, Deepa Krishnan, CEO, and Sam Laber, CMO, to learn more about their scanner app, how they came up with the idea, and how it can help YOU as you navigate the low FODMAP diet.
Dédé Wilson: Deepa, Sam, thank you so much for talking with us about your company. You recently launched an initial version of the app. This is an exciting time! First let’s get some background.
I know that each of you has your own very interesting background relationship with food and how it has positively affected your health. Tell us about that.
Sam: Thanks for having us Dédé! Yeah, so Deepa and I have both been tinkering with our diets for a while now. I was diagnosed with Tourette’s at age 7, which meant cutting out caffeine, most dyes, and, to the best of my ability, CHOCOLATE. Deepa had an early health scare with her heart which she manages partially through diet. She more recently went dairy-free to manage adult-onset asthma. Those experiences combined have made us realize just how strong the connection is between what we eat and how that makes us feel.
And when and how did you hear about the low FODMAP diet?
Deepa: To be honest, I think it may have been a FODMAP Everyday article (no plug intended). We’ve always been big advocates of the food is medicine movement, so when we started researching different diets, low FODMAP naturally rose up. We were excited by the complexity of it and reassured by its clinical track record. We also have family members with IBS and were excited by the possibility of helping them via our app.
How did you first come up with the idea of creating an app to help those on restrictive diets?
Deepa: We both come from tech backgrounds and have always been fascinated by the data behind food. We love how apps like MyFitnessPal use macro and micronutrient data to help people lose weight and thought we could do something similar with ingredient data to help people manage dietary restrictions.
Let’s talk about your launch of Spoonful! Describe for those who haven’t seen the app yet exactly what it does and how the consumer uses it.
The app itself is like a low FODMAP shopping companion. You can take it to the store and scan products to see what’s low fodmap. If it detects a high or moderate FODMAP ingredient, it will flag that product so you can steer clear. All ingredients we flag have been reviewed and verified by RDNs who specialize in IBS and low FODMAP.
Another feature we love is the Discover Feed. It keeps a running list of all products scanned by other users, which you can search and favorite similar to a Spotify playlist. A lot of folks we’ve talked to mentioned how isolating the diet can be, so the feed serves as a community of sorts for users to draw inspiration from others.
I would equate the community feed to a custom shopping list, which is great! We provide downloadable shopping lists that have been created by our Success Team RD Vanessa Cobarrubia, who is Monash trained and we know she is reviewing your content as well. Tell us about the process. What work has she and the other RDNs done for you to help your users access low FODMAP food?
Deepa: Each time someone scans a product label, there’s quite a lot happening behind the scenes. Let’s take this Nature Valley bar for example.
Once scanned, Spoonful runs each of these ingredients through what we like to call our “FODMAP filter”. In this case, the filter knows that “Honey” is considered high FODMAP, so it gets a red label. It also knows that “Natural Flavors” can be moderate or high depending on what those flavors are, so it gets a yellow label. The product itself then receives a red label, because it contains one or more high FODMAP ingredients.
If a user wants to know more about a particular ingredient (in this case honey), they can tap on it to read our RDN note and get substitution ideas. Vanessa and the rest of our expert team (shoutout Liz McMahon, RDN) took the lead on creating these notes and on providing the insight for the FODMAP filter as a whole.
So if a RDN reviews conventional Cheerios, for instance, and the cereal is represented in the app, how does Spoonful handle any industry re-formulations of the product?
Deepa: We have regular data maintenance to make sure all our products and ingredients are up to date. If a product like Cheerios were to change its ingredients (and if this were to change the FODMAP content), we do our best to update the result in our app and leave a note explaining the change.
We have to talk about what I like to call High FODMAP Foods With Low FODMAP Servings Sizes. We all know that the diet can appear to be confusing, especially for those new to the diet.
Almonds will appear on some low FODMAP lists and on high FODMAP lists elsewhere. Garlic and onion are often the first foods that IBS sufferers learn that they must remove from their diet during the initial Elimination Phase – but, and this is a big but, these ingredients are in conventional ketchup and Worcestershire sauce, for instance, and specific small portions of these condiments are considered low FODMAP.
Sam: Yes! This has been a hot topic of conversation at Spoonful as well. By default, Spoonful uses ingredients to provide a best estimate on whether or not the product should be considered high, low or moderate FODMAP. This works in the majority of cases, but there are outliers.
As we all know, product labels do not provide ingredient serving sizes, which can make things tricky when evaluating products with an ingredient like almonds. For foods we know to be low FODMAP at reasonable serves (like Fody Foods Almond Coconut Bar), the app is now smart enough to not flag the almonds. This holds true for other high FODMAP ingredient, low FODMAP products like sriracha, ketchup and Worcestershire sauce.
People learn, hopefully quickly, that this diet is not black and white. There are many shades of gray and it is because the amount of FODMAPs that can trigger symptoms are related to the amount ingested.
Help us understand how your Spoonful App handles prepared foods that contain ingredients that have high as well as low FODMAP serving size amounts.
Sam: For these types of ingredients, we use a cautionary yellow label, and provide more context in the RDN notes. We also recommend that you supplement our notes with the Monash app for prep and serving size information.
You May Want To Read: How To Read An FDA Nutrition Facts Label
Soybeans, for example, can be high or low FODMAP depending on processing and level of bean maturity. Our app labels them yellow and gives some general advice on how to make the best choice. Things like choosing firm over soft tofu or steering clear of products made from mature soybeans.
Who do you consider your ideal user?
Sam: The app works best for people who have been recommended the low FODMAP diet by a doctor or RDN. Whether you’re in the Elimination phase or you’ve already identified your triggers, the app will help you speed up label reading and find something new to try! For now, it’s only available in the US, but we’d like to venture elsewhere someday.
What you have just said is so important. Just like what we do here at FODMAP Everyday®, we consider our content to be an adjunct to the information coming from one’s medical team.
The low FODMAP diet is not a fad. It is a clinically proven diet that should be treated as any other medically recommended approach.
I understand that your intention for the Spoonful scanner app will eventually be applied to other diets. Can you tell us about that?
Deepa: Yep! We’re looking into other diets with a proven clinical track record. As I mentioned, we’re firm believers in the food is medicine movement, so naturally we would like to extend our reach to other health conditions. That doesn’t mean slowing down on low fodmap though! We’ve got a great team in place and have received tons of great feedback on how to make the app even better.
We know that creating an app is a huge investment of time and money. How much will the app cost to download?
Sam: Spoonful is free! And our goal is to keep it that way. We will likely explore premium offerings for users who need extra help or would like a bit more personalization. We also believe the app provides a great platform for brands to introduce low FODMAP products, so we’re exploring that avenue as well.