Apps for a healthier and environmentally friendly lifestyle

To avoid the mind-boggling array of products in grocery stores, I either resort to buying the same products that I have used before or look for specific cues such as the color of the packaging or words like eco, good, fair trade, or healthy. Our eyes can only scan so much because of information overload. According to the International Food Information Council Foundation’s (IFIC) 2017 Food and Health Survey, almost half are unable to identify a single food or nutrient associated with the benefits.

We have another set of eyes at our disposal – our smartphones. About 36% of the world’s population uses smartphones. I mostly use a smartphone in a grocery aisle to check my to-buy list or to call. I recently also used my phone to take a picture of a Himalayan Salt package to show a friend how it doesn’t supply iodide. But, that’s about it. I feel guilty for using smartphone around because it invades privacy, but I shouldn’t feel guilty to use it to make better choices for me and my family and our environment.


Apps are now available for users to make better choices for a healthier lifestyle as well as to give them a chance to protect our environment. These apps are like little orbuculums under your glass screens. They provide ingredient analysis and nutritional information, to make better choices for your future. I’ve made a list below, but apps can be geographically limited, which means that you will neither be able to download it on your smartphone nor can you see products that are locally available. Fret not, some of these apps will allow you to enter products and all their ingredients into their database.


  • Customize your profile based on your own lifestyle and diet.
  • For food and cosmetics
  • Scan barcode, enter EAN number
  • Find out whether the products are vegan, vegetarian or gluten- or lactose-free
  • Offers information such as palm oil, microbeads, nanoparticles, parabens, paraffins, too much sugar, etc.
  • Helps you if you have an allergy to something.


  • For food and cosmetics
  • Scan a barcode, search by name or browse by category
  • Gives you an easy-to-understand 1-10 score (1 being the best!).


  • Provides health tips
  • For food only
  • Tracks calories, sleep etc.
  • Scan barcode
  • Provides information on added sugars, artificial sweeteners such as aspartame, trans fats, high fructose corn syrup, MSG, controversial food colourings, GMO – genetically modified organisms (premium feature), additives and preservatives.


  • For food only
  • Similar to CodeCheck
  • Allows you to share your food picks with friends and family
  • Create food goals.

Open Food Facts

  • For food only
  • Provides information about Fair Trade products
  • Shows you where your food was made
  • Collaborative, free, open database
  • Compare products.

Seafood Watch

  • For seafood only
  • Offers recommendations to help you choose ocean-friendly seafood at your favourite restaurants and stores.

Chemical Cuisine

  • For food only
  • Ranks the safety of food additives such as acetic acid, yellow prussiate of soda etc.
  • Unable to find the app, but their website contains all the information.

With volumes of digestible information now available at our fingertips, it is also important to factor people’s perceptions of local food environments and how it influences their abilities to eat healthily. A 2016 research done in Alberta, Canada, shows that while availability and access to food outlets influence healthy eating practices, these factors may be eclipsed by other non-physical environmental considerations, such as food regulations and sociocultural preferences. This study identifies a set of meta-themes that summarize and illustrate the interrelationships between environmental attributes, people’s perceptions, and eating behaviours:

  • availability and accessibility are interrelated and only part of the healthy eating equation
  • local food is synonymous with healthy eating
  • local food places for healthy eating help define community identity
  • communal dining (commensality) does not necessarily mean healthy eating
  • rewarding an achievement or celebrating special occasions with highly processed foods is socially accepted
  • food costs seemed to be driving forces in food decisions
  • macro-environmental influences are latent in food decisions.

How comfortable are you using these apps? Will you use them? Have you used them? If not, why not? How far do you go or are willing to go to make better choices? Or do you hope that you will simply stumble upon a better choice? While we can reduce exposure to bad elements by cooking more at home, our lifestyle doesn’t necessarily always allow it. Yet, here we are.


Chemistry with glasses on

I’m going to take you back in time. Forget all the chemistry you know for the next few seconds – say three. Can you wonder how it must have been to think, ‘Hey, this material must have some structure.’? Sounds bizarre. As bizarre as Newton asking himself, “Why does anything fall?’

These three scientists wondered about chemical structures in the same bizarre way and are the founders of the theory of chemical structure.

  1. Alexander Mikhaylovich Butlerov, a Russian chemist, one of the principal creators of the theory of chemical structure.
  2. Archibald Scott Couper, a Scottish chemist who proposed an early theory of chemical structure and bonding.
  3. August Kekulé, German organic chemistHe was the principal founder of the theory of chemical structure.

First glass

In 1951, physicist Erwin Wilhelm Müller,  a German physicist, was the first to see atoms. He did this using his own invention: the field ion microscope. Literature doesn’t have the photograph of what he saw but the following photograph is similar to what he observed: each dot is the image of an individual platinum atom.

(Image: ACS)

Second glass

In 1931, Max Knoll and Ernst Ruska built the first TEM. In 2013, researchers put this to use by observing what happens inside a battery. The following image is a TEM image of the polio virus.

(Image: Wikipedia)

Third glass

The third glass quickly replaced the second in the year 1952 when the following photo was captured. But it was rather an indirect picture – Photo 51. Photo 51 is the nickname given to an X-ray diffraction image of DNA taken by Raymond Gosling  in the lab of Rosalind Franklin, as her PhD student.

(Image: Wikimedia)

Fourth glass

The fourth glass was put on with the advent of scanning tunneling microscope. This gave rise to a technique called as scanning probe microscopy. Atomic force microscopy (AFM) or scanning force microscopy (SFM) is a very high-resolution type of scanning probe microscopy. In 2009, a single molecule was imaged for the very first time by IBM researchers. This was done by using a AFM. It is with AFM that for the very first time (2013) that scientists saw how hydrogen bonds looks like. The following is its picture.

(Image: RSC)

Fifth glass

The fifth glass is our very own digital camera.

“A great deal of time is spent within synthetic chemistry laboratories on non-value-adding activities such as sample preparation and work-up operations, and labor intensive activities such as extended periods of continued data collection. Using digital cameras connected to computer vision algorithms, camera-enabled apparatus can perform some of these processes in an automated fashion, allowing skilled chemists to spend their time more productively. In this review we describe recent advances in this field of chemical synthesis and discuss how they will lead to advanced synthesis laboratories of the future.” – Abstract from an open-access paper ‘Camera-enabled techniques for organic synthesis‘ (Beilstein J. Org. Chem. 2013, 9, 1051–1072.)

Researchers from UCLA have developed a smartphone microscope to see single virus and synthetic nanoparticles. It produces images almost as good as a SEM.


Sixth glass

Last week, I attended a lecture by Prof. Prashant Jain ( from the University of Illinois, at ICT, Mumbai. It was called ‘Elucidating chemical reactions on the nanoscale’. He described how we can observe individual nanoparticles instead of observing the reaction in bulk. His research involves ‘Imaging Phase Transitions in Single Nanocrystals’. The following is a section from his profile describing this research work.

Phase transitions in solid-state materials often involve interesting dynamics. Since macroscopic solids are typically polycrystalline, such dynamics is smeared out in studies on bulk solids, due to ensemble averaging over different crystalline domains. By acquiring snapshots of a single nanocrystalline domain undergoing a phase transition, our lab is attempting to uncover the dynamic trajectory involved in the nucleation of a new phase. We are developing new optical and spectroscopic methods to acquire snapshots of model phase transitions and also using these techniques to learn new facts about fundamental phenomena such as crystal growth, impurity doping, and correlated electron systems.

We’ve come a long way observing chemistry, haven’t we? The more we see, we find how less we know.

Acknowledgment: Thanks to Dirk Schweitzer for introducing me to the paper – ‘Camera-enabled techniques for organic synthesis‘. You can find him on Google+.