Healthy eating is about to get a lot easier, as search-engine behemoth Google unveiled a new service yesterday allowing users to find nutritional information for over 1,000 common foods through a simple Google search. Foods range from simple staples such as apples, bananas, and corn, to complex dishes such as chow mein. The service, which is voice-responsive, is available on both computers and smartphones, and even suggests similar foods based on the search term. This is only the beginning, as Google stated it plans to add more foods, features, and languages in the future.
The new service is part of Google’s “The Knowledge Graph” project, which seeks to “bring together all kinds of information from across the web that isn’t easily accessible.” Essentially, the project’s aim is to improve the “intelligence” and usefulness of Google searches by paying attention the meaning of the things we search for.
Google’s attempt to help individuals eat healthier is the second major instance of it using its power to provide a beneficial service. Google searches related to suicide bring up the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
But will this new service achieve its goal of helping people eat healthily? The first question is whether the service actually works. I tested several basic foods (corn, bananas, apples, donuts, potatoes, and eggs) using a number of phrases, but could not find the Google nutrition information, even when I typed the exact phrasing used in the promotional screenshots. It might simply be that this service will take a little time to become operational, but it is clear that users are intended to actually ask specific questions about food, such as “How many carbs in an apple” and “How many calories are in popcorn.”
Assuming Google can work out the kinks, it is still the case that this will only prove helpful to people who are already concerned about eating healthily. If you aren’t the kind of person who proactively looks for nutritional information, it’s unlikely that this will turn you into a health nut. That said, this service could be especially useful in convincing people who are casually interested in improving their diet to become more serious about it. At the end of the day, its alleged user friendliness makes this service a potentially big success.
It’s worth noting that Google’s rival Bing did the same thing a few years ago, but the service has apparently been discontinued. Given the fact that Google is easily the most popular search engine, it is likely that it will see more success with this service than Bing.
Knowledge is power, and clearly presented nutritional information just a few taps of the fingers away is something we can all easily stomach.