HealthifyMe app tracks nutrition in thousands of Indian dishes

A new app out next month aims to give health conscious Indian food eaters information they can't yet easily find anywhere else: an app which breaks down the nutrients and calories of thousands of Indian dishes.

From left, Mathew Cherian, Tushar Vashisht and Sachin Shenoy. Courtesy Tushar Vashisht
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A new app specifically tracks the calorie count of Indian dishes and ingredients. Amrit Dhillon reports

When Tushar Vashisht moved from New York to Bangalore for work a year ago, he succumbed to his love of Indian food. The former investment banker overate and under-exercised while working on the Indian government's project to give every Indian a unique identification number.

Having put on 18kg, he made up his mind to lose it. That's when Vashisht, 27, and his friend and co-founder Mathew Cherian, 28, realised that all the apps available for tracking the calories of the food you eat were devised for western dishes. Whenever he ate an Indian dish, he had no idea about its nutritional value or calories.

"This prompted us to devise the world's first Indian nutritional and calorie tracking tool that gives you data on thousands of Indian dishes from all over India and raw ingredients so that you can keep track of what you are eating," says Vashisht.

The resulting app, HealthifyMe, calls itself a guaranteed ticket to health and fitness. If you have had an oily or fat-rich breakfast, the app tells you the damage and suggests what you can have for the rest of the day to balance the morning sin.

The basic Android version is already available for free with other versions to follow. Users simply click on the relevant food item for all the nutritional information they need.

A premium version allows users to skip this step, giving them all the relevant information with the simple snap of a photo. The premium version also tracks physical activity.

Before the app could undergo its seven months of testing, Vashisht, now Healthifyme's chief executive, and Cherian had to collect hundreds of bits of data on Indian raw ingredients, with their nutrient count, from the National Institute of Nutrition in Hyderabad. This data was then merged with records from the US Food and Drug Administration's database of 10,000 raw ingredients.

When the two were combined, the result was a staggeringly comprehensive database of thousands of regional dishes and foods with their key nutrients and calories.

Vashisht and Cherian, a computer science graduate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, have realised that Indians are remarkably unaware of the fat, carbohydrate, protein and calorie content of what they eat every day, even the most health-conscious.

"Many Indians think 'paneer' (an Indian cheese) is healthy when it has a lot of fat and they think 'ghee' (clarified butter) is better for you than olive oil, which is not true," says Vashisht.

As he soon discovered on arriving in India, Indian professionals can lead a very unhealthy lifestyle: not only is it sedentary, but it also involves a combination of fattening snacks, irregular eating, oil-laden sweets and junk food. With 63 million diabetic patients, India is just next to China (92.3 million) in the race to become the diabetes capital of the world. Government statistics suggest that over 70 per cent of white-collar workers are overweight.

Even for those Indians who are already aware that Indian food can be rich and are prepared to pay to consult dieticians and nutritionists, the app can be useful because it cuts down on the time they have to spend with these experts and the journey time it takes to reach them.

"It's great for both sides. For the patient, it's easy to be able to check their intake sitting at home and for dieticians, the app cuts down on their 'gruntwork' - the hard grind of checking the content of every food item for their clients," says Vashisht.

HealthifyMe launches on March 1. A limited-edition version can be accessed through HealthifyMe.com

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