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How to find out what exactly is on your plate

The challenges of eating processed food gave sickle cell anaemia sufferer Temi Alanamu the idea for a new food app which allows users to find the hidden ingredients in their meal

By Abi Jackson

Are you one of the tens of millions of people living with a food allergy, intolerance or sensitivity - or just likes to know exactly what they're eating? Then you might want to check out Whatsinit?, which is a new app designed to make life easier for anybody unsure whether what they're eating is 'safe' or might trigger symptoms.

It was developed by husband and wife team Temi Alanamu and Rob Renton. Temi has the genetic blood cell disorder sickle cell anaemia, and keeping a close eye on her diet plays an important role in helping her manage her health.

The app can be used to scan food labels to look up specific ingredients, check whether certain ingredients might be known by different names and look up nutritional information, among other features. You can personalise the findings too, colour-coding them as ingredients to avoid, or follow some of the pre-set diet plans designed for people avoiding specific foods.

Here, 32-year-old Temi, from London, talks to us about the inspiration behind the idea and living with sickle cell anaemia.

Can you tell us a little about what inspired you to launch your app?

"My husband Rob and I had the idea for Whatsinit? in 2015, when we were out of work and financial constraints forced us to buy and eat cheap, processed foods. Since I have sickle cell anaemia, I had always been careful about what I ate and tried to eat fresh, nutritious food.

"Having to eat a lot more processed food was a bit of a shock and we would scrutinise every ingredient on the foods we bought, to make sure we understood exactly what I was eating and ensure none of the ingredients would do me any harm.

"But the more we read ingredients labels, the more we realised we had no idea what many of the ingredients in these foods meant, because a lot of it wasn't actually food. So we decided to build an app that helped us, and others, quickly and easily identify food ingredients. We got together with professionals in the food and health industry and, over two years, built it up."

Are things getting better for people with special dietary needs?

"It is definitely getting better. Every day consumers are getting more knowledgeable about food. They understand what's good for them and what isn't, and food manufacturers and restaurants are starting to recognise this.

"Coffee shops are now offering vegan lattes that use plant milk instead of dairy, and free-from foods is one of the fastest growing areas in the food industry.

"But there is still a lot of work to be done because food labelling is currently very obscure."

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Temi Alanamu

Can you tell us more about living with sickle cell anaemia?

"Sickle cell anaemia is a genetic condition that affects around 12,000 people in the UK alone, mainly from an Afro-Caribbean background. Put simply, it means I am always anaemic, have diminished immunity and some of my red blood cells are unusually shaped (sickled). Sometimes these cells get sticky, attach to one another and obstruct my veins, causing severe pain.

"Like the millions of other suffers around the world, my sickle cell anaemia means I have to live a life of moderation. I can't do strenuous exercise, so I probably will never run a marathon or climb Everest. I can't be too hot or too cold or become very stressed or very anxious for an extended period of time.

"If I do, my red (blood cells)will stick together and I will suffer something called a crisis, which is characterised by extreme pain all over my body and severe anaemia."

How do you take care of your wellbeing?

"I have always tried to stick to eating only fresh fruit, vegetables and meat, and because snacking on the wrong things could have such serious repercussions for my health, packaged meals have never really been a tempting option.

"Exercise and relaxation are also great for managing sickle cell. I used to do yoga and Pilates, which is good to both work your muscles and relax."

Whatsinit? is available for free from the App Store and Google Play. See whatsinitapp.com

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