Photo: Sage Project.

When you’re in the grocery aisle deciding which type of crackers or canned tomatoes or granola to buy, you might check the label for nutritional information. Maybe you seek out the calories, the protein, or the fiber — but what does it all really mean? 

New York-based startup Sage Project is hoping to cut through the confusion with their nutrition data platform. The best part? It looks great doing it.

Started in 2015, Sage Project initially came out of CEO and co-founder Sam Slover’s research thesis at NYU in which he tracked his food intake for a year. During that time he realized that there wasn’t a tracking tool out there that was user-friendly and gave a helpful context to what you were eating. So Slover decided to create a nutrition platform that provided a lot of data points, but which also personalized the information and made it accessible — even to someone that didn’t have a nutrition degree.

What separates Sage Project from other services that quantify food’s nutritional value, such as Weight Watchers, is its level of contextualization. When you click on a branded product on Sage Project’s website, it will immediately give you a visually appealing nutritional breakdown, listing calories, protein, carbs, vitamins, and fat per serving. Which is what you would find on any nutritional label. But then Sage Project takes it further by giving information on where the product brand’s headquarters are, which diets it works well with, and other notable health aspects (gluten-free, vegan, etc).

Food items may also have something called “badges”. Which are sort of like Girl/Boy Scout Badges, but for health. For example, a pre-prepared bean and cheese burrito might get a badge for being certified organic, or a chocolate bar might earn a badge for having fewer than 5 ingredients.

“We’re not giving advice through the app,” said Sage Project Community Manager (and registered dietician) Georgia Rounder. “We’re providing information — and we want to provide it in a way that’s educational and fun.”

And fun it is. My personal favorite part of the site is a gif that shows how many minutes you would have to bike, run, swim, jump rope, do yoga, or dance in order to burn off the calories in one serving of your selected food. Which can be a little shocking (20 minutes of dancing to burn off one serving of crackers?!), but I didn’t mind. Because the visuals are just so. Darn. Cute.

“There’s a whimsical feel that sets it apart from other nutritional services,” said Rounder. After poking around the Sage Project site for a while, I would have to agree; the platform presents a lot of information, but the clean layout and pastel colors (not to mention the animated foodstuffs) somehow make it not overwhelming. Which is especially important since Sage Project is providing nutritional data, which can feel pretty intimidating — especially if you’re trying to figure out how to eat within the guidelines of a diet like diabetes-friendly or ketogenic.

Sage Project currently sources its library of data directly from partner brands. So far it has relationships Whole Foods, Kroger, Walmart and more. In the future they hope to expand their partnerships and work with a lot more macro and micro brands, growing their offering until, presumably, they catalog every product on the market.

In fact, the privately funded company has quite a few plans for expansion. In the next month or so, the startup will be rolling out a bigger, more comprehensive platform, as well as a mobile app. The new platform will have a new name (which Rounder said she couldn’t reveal), new features, and will expand on old features. It will also let users get a lot more personalized with their diets. For example, if you’re trying to eat a kidney-friendly or vegan diet, you can let the platform know and it will tell you if each food you select is a good pick or not.

It won’t only be for people trying to follow particular diets, however. Users can also create an individual dietary profile if they want to make it even more customized.

But the most critical aspect of Sage Project’s update will be the addition of a mobile app. In fact, without a mobile app component, Sage Project is basically just a cute novelty tool; a fun way to look up particular food products, but not especially useful in the day to day.  Because if you’re shopping in a grocery store the last thing you want to do is pull up a website on your phone to get some nutritional context for chocolate-covered almonds.

The app will also give consumers a way to add new foods to the database. If they come across a product or brand that isn’t listed, users can take a photo of the label with the app and Sage Project will add its nutritional information. In the future, I could see the startup teaming up with a grocery delivery service (like Amazon, since Sage Project’s first brand partner was Whole Foods) so that users could shop for foods that were in line with their diet directly from their phone.

Jones told me that the Sage Project team is also working on image recognition. They hope that the app will be able to recognize what foods are on your plate so it can give you a nutritional breakdown of each separate ingredient or dish, plus advice on how they fit into your personalized nutrition profile.

Until that day we’ll have to settle for getting our nutrition breakdown for a break-dancing milk carton and a bicycling watermelon. I’m not mad about it.

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