Washington: Scientists have developed a novel mobile app that can help you choose healthier food alternatives at the grocery store.

The FoodSwitch app, developed by researchers from The George Institute for Global Health in Australia and Northwestern University in the US, asks users to crowdsource information on new and changing foods to update its 268,000-product database in real time.

With a tap of the screen, users can scan a packaged food's barcode, quickly see its nutritional rating and identify similar foods that are healthier.

It provides a Health Star Rating that scores each food between 0.5 stars (unhealthy) to 5 stars (healthiest). The scoring is based on a scientific algorithm that weights the impact of different nutrients on health.

The app also provides a breakdown of the food's fat, saturated fat, sugars and salt in grams and gives a percentage of an adult's daily intake for each. This is shown as red, yellow and green traffic lights.

When a food gets few stars or multiple red lights, consumers can see it's high in fat, saturated fat, sugars and salt.

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Users also can compare multiple products in the same category, such as regular and fat-free salad dressing, to quickly determine which product is healthier.

If a user scans a barcode and the food is not in the database, the app prompts the user to photograph the packaging, its nutrition facts panel and ingredient list so the app's team can add it to the database.

This type of crowdsourcing is vital for the app's success, because manufacturers frequently update or add products, and independent grocers carry foods that are not always found in mainstream grocery stores, said Mark Huffman, associate professor at Northwestern University in the US.

Packaged food manufacturers change their products frequently, which can make it difficult to track how well they are reducing sodium, added sugars or saturated fats in their foods.

As users crowdsource new information they find on packaged foods and update the FoodSwitch database, it will become easier to track what's in the global food supply and how healthy it is.

A SaltSwitch filter within the app can guide users to foods with less salt. FoodSwitch has already launched in many countries including India, China, South Africa and Hong Kong. (PTI)