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Meet Spoonful: The Low FODMAP Scanner App

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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 Spoonful comes in, with their low FODMAP diet scanner app.

Feature image for article on Spoonful App

Editors Note: This article was updated April 2022. Some of the language represents discussing the app when it was first launched. We have also included discussions of updated features.

Watch our video on how the Spoonful App works while you shop!

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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often tell the patient to “follow this diet” or patients are handed a sheet of paper that is most probably woefully out-of-date.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.

Update: Spring 2020, Spoonful is Now Live in Canada, UK, Australia & New Zealand! And as of Spring 2022, you can now find ALL of our FODMAP Everyday®Recipes directly linked through the app!

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.

Download the app and try it now:

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. 

Sam: The launch has been awesome! Definitely exceeded our expectations so far. We released on iOS back in early October and just launched on Android last week (Ed Note: this was 2019).

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.

Use your smartphone to scan the barcode within the Spoonful app to see the FODMAP status of the product.

Another feature we love is the Discover tab. It’s like a crowd-sourced catalogue of low FODMAP products sorted by popularity. Top scanned products are arranged first and you can filter the list by any store in your area. FODMAPs can be super restrictive, but when you look through this catalogue, you start to realize just how many foods out there you actually can eat.

You can create lists of your favorite products easily.
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 Vargas, 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.

You can easily learn more about a high FODMAP ingredient by clicking through to a description written by a RDN based on the latest research.

Once scanned, Spoonful runs each of these ingredients through what we like to call our “FODMAP filter”. In this case, the filter knows that “high fructose corn syrup” is considered high FODMAP, so it gets a red label. It also knows that the FODMAP content of “honey” depends on serving size, so it will ask you to cross-reference with Monash for more information. The product itself then receives a red label – likely high FODMAP – because it contains one or more ingredients considered high FODMAP at 1 serving.

Read more: How to Use Spoonful Alongside the Monash App

If a user wants to know more about a particular ingredient (in this case high fructose corn syrup), they can tap on it to read our RDN note. Vanessa Vargas and the rest of our expert team (shoutout Liz McMahon, RDN, Jas Saurai, RDN and Joanna Baker, APD) 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.

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 have already identified your triggers, the app can customize scans and products to your FODMAP categories. We’re available in the US, Canada, UK, Australia & New Zealand.

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.

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! In addition to low FODMAP and personalized FODMAP categories, Spoonful also supports gluten-free and plant-based diets (vegan, vegetarian, and pescatarian). Like with FODMAPs, we sought RDNs who are extremely well versed in these categories and built them from the ground up.

I also want to point out that we’ve been very intentional with which diets we support. Unlike many other apps, we’re coming at this from a medical perspective – this means we’re extremely cognizant of over-restriction and the challenges that stem from it. We intend to support all medically-backed diets (sorry, no Whole30) that truly support and benefit people on their food journey.

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 to try! All users who download the app are given 5 scans and 3 searches each month. If you’d like to receive unlimited scans and searches, it’s $3.99/mo or $24.99/yr. The cost helps us maintain the accuracy and coverage of the app, while staying up-to-date on the latest FODMAP rules.

Sam and Deepa, thank you so much for your time and for working so hard for all of us FODMAPers. Your scanner app is a helpful tool to add to our resources, and will help many users navigate the low FODMAP diet.

Download the app and try it now:

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