Get Smarter about Digestion: FoodMarble Review
About ten years ago we gave up eating beef. We aren’t vegetarians – we still eat pork, lamb, chicken and turkey, but we stopped eating beef to try to have a healthier diet. Instead of ordering a smaller steak than the 28-ounce bone-in ribeye, we would skip steak altogether. And burgers, short rib, pastrami, roasts, jerky, hot dogs…
We have stuck to our no-beef policy, with a few accidents and exceptions. We choose to pretend that pepperoni is made just with pork (it’s not – we know) and I accidentally ate a couple delicious bresaola sandwiches in Italy until I looked it up. For a while it was hard to find a good substitute for burgers, but now there is no shortage of turkey, lamb and even plant-based Impossible and Beyond burgers. In steakhouses we can always find a good pork chop or a delicious seafood dish.
I always had a hard time digesting beef so I don’t miss it at all. I often got heartburn and indigestion after a big steak or greasy burger. I don’t seem to have problems with other meats.
Cutting out beef was a simple solution for me, but as we get older, I have also started to notice that I have problems with other foods as well. I don’t always feel good after breakfast or after a rich dinner. Some meals are pretty obvious but when a seemingly healthy lunch makes me overly bloated or gives me stomach pain, it can be hard to figure out what triggered it, if anything. It may just be stress or something I ate yesterday.
Affiliate Disclosure: AppMyHome.com is a participant in the FoodMarble Affiliate Program. We received a FoodMarble AIRE as part of this review. Opinions and conclusions are our own.
Using Technology to Help
At CES this year, we found a company working to help people understand their digestion with technology. Aonghus Shortt was downstairs in Eureka Park in the UK and Ireland pavilion, talking about his Dublin-based company, FoodMarble. Aonghus is one of four co-founders who created the concept and launched it with 8000 pre-orders from their website. It launched for general sales on December 4, 2018.
We were intrigued by FoodMarble and happy to take home an AIRE device. Aonghus also included the FODMAP Program – four sachets of common carbohydrates that often trigger digestive issues.
How does it work?
The AIRE is a pocket-sized breath analysis device that helps you measure how well your food is being digested, specifically by measuring the concentration of hydrogen in your breath. Hydrogen breath testing is one of several methods that doctors use to help diagnose digestive disorders, and the FoodMarble team miniaturized it into the AIRE so that consumers can benefit from the same technology.
When we began our test, I knew almost nothing about food intolerances or this type of testing. I have plenty of friends who have gone gluten-free and say they feel great, but I have never researched any of this for myself. During my last physical I asked my doctor about some of my intestinal symptoms, but she told me it didn’t sound serious and there was nothing to worry about.
Setting up the FoodMarble AIRE is simple. Simply charge the AIRE device using microUSB, download the AIRE app from your favorite AppStore, and set up an account. Once the AIRE is charged, you pair it with your phone and you are ready to start tracking your food and measuring the hydrogen levels in your breath.
After I paired my AIRE with the app, I did my first breath test. The app guides you through it – take in a deep breath, hold it for 3 seconds, then breath into the device for 5. Since I hadn’t eaten anything recently, I didn’t have much to measure, but it got me started learning how to use the AIRE.
Using the AIRE begins with tracking what you eat. You can choose foods from the FoodMarble database and combine them into a meal. You can even add a picture to help you remember.
Logging food was a bit of a challenge at first. I’ve used food logging apps for years for dieting, so I’m used to a more comprehensive list of common foods. Beyond the typical nutritional information per serving, the FoodMarble database tracks the different FODMAP content for each food, so their database is smaller and more specific.
The database is also European, so some foods are labeled differently from what Americans expect. I used to live in London so I know that we eat streaky bacon, that chips are fries and crisps are potato chips, so I understood some of the different food names quickly.
You can also create a custom food, and FoodMarble encourages that, so they can see commonly logged foods across all users and add them to the database as needed.
I tried to be really specific with measurements and serving sizes at the beginning, but after a while I started to just pick the closest equivalent or just add the standard serving size of food. I was trying to figure out triggers, not track my calories, so I figured I could get close enough to see what kinds of ingredients I reacted to.
After you’ve logged a meal or snack, the AIRE app sets automatic reminders for you to test your breath three times – once every hour after you’ve consumed the meal. This was pretty challenging for me, especially at first. It’s fine if you are home, but if you are out it is not always that convenient to pull out your breathing device and take a reading, especially in public. FoodMarble provides a nice little carrying case to store your AIRE in your purse, bag or pocket so you can take it on the go, but that doesn’t always mean it’s easy to access when you need it.
Interpreting the measurements
For my first few measurements after my initial meals, I got a measurement of 10 on my breath reading – the highest. At first this was alarming, I thought, oh wow there is something wrong with me! I should not have eaten that … avocado, turkey taco, or drank that glass of wine. In the app itself, you can click to learn more about what the high score means, and what to do about it. It also reminds you about what you ate recently and whether or not those foods were high in FODMAPS.
A high score means that there is a high level of fermentation going on in your body, as your body is working to digest your meal. If your food has not been absorbed completely, the bacteria in the gut convert the hard-to-digest FODMAPs into gases, which can lead to uncomfortable symptoms. Each breath test measures how much gas your gut is producing as you continue to digest your meals.
Once I read some more of the information and did some more breath tests, I started to feel more at ease. The important thing to do with the AIRE is to just log foods, take breaths, and note symptoms. Everyone’s digestive system is different and having high readings doesn’t mean you need to rush to the doctor. You are just learning more about how your body works and how you react to different foods.
After getting some different readings in the hours after a meal, and noticing that I got different scores for different types of foods, I started to get more comfortable and just focused on trying to keep track of what I ate and to do my best to keep up with the breath readings.
After you login to FoodMarble for the first time, they send you a series of six getting started emails every couple of days to help you understand how to get the most of the AIRE and the app. I admit I didn’t keep up with these at first, but it was really helpful to read them later to better understand the process.
Logging other symptoms and seeing trends
In addition to logging meals and measuring breath, the AIRE app encourages you to log sleep, stress, and most importantly any symptoms you experience during the day. Lack of sleep and stress can often lead to an upset stomach and other issues, so it’s good to be able to see these trends over time, to understand if it was really something you ate or if you were just having a bad day.
The AIRE home screen shows daily trends that you can review in detail, or you can also view measurement averages and symptoms by week, so you can get a good idea of what’s been going on with your digestion.
Want to try the FoodMarble AIRE for yourself? Order from their website, and use the code “APPMYH” for a 15 percent discount.
After a couple of weeks of using the AIRE, I decided to take on the four FODMAP challenges. As we mentioned before, FODMAPs are common carbohydrates that are poorly absorbed by most people. FODMAP is an acronym for Fermentable Oglio-, Di, Mono-saccharides And Polyols. We had never heard of FODMAPs before, but googling it produced lots of articles discussing low FODMAP diets and the benefits and drawbacks.
FoodMarble does not try to push you in one direction or another with special diets or recommendations, they just objectively measure your body’s reaction with breath testing. The FODMAP program allows you to test four individual components – Lactose, Sorbitol, Inulin and Fructose, so you can see if you have any particular reaction.
FoodMarble suggests you schedule your FODMAP challenges to make it easier to complete them correctly. In order to get a meaningful result, you need to fast for at least 12 hours before you begin the test, preferably with a last meal that is low in FODMAPs, so your body isn’t responding to something else. It’s good to plan a FODMAP challenge when you plan to be at home, since you need to take readings every fifteen minutes and you may experience some uncomfortable symptoms. They also suggest that you wait at least a week in between challenges to give your body a chance to readjust.
First challenge – Lactose
We started our challenge with lactose. I never thought I was lactose intolerant, but I had recently had some problems after eating one of my favorite breakfasts, greek yogurt with banana and honey. I have been swimming a lot lately, and noticed that my stomach would get upset and I would feel uncomfortable if I had that for breakfast then hit the pool a couple hours later.
To begin the challenge, I started with a baseline breath reading, to make sure it wasn’t too high. Then I mixed the lactose packet with boiling water, stirred to dissolve it and added cool water on top so I could easily drink it. It didn’t taste like much, just slightly sweetened water, but it evidently contains the same amount of lactose as one full glass of milk.
After consuming the packet, the app set automatic reminders to take a breath reading every 15 minutes for three hours. I found myself watching the timer to help me see how long I had between tests and how much longer I had for the challenge itself. Holding off on my morning cup of coffee was the worst part! I did the challenge at home and took the AIRE device with me wherever I went, if I was doing laundry or typing at my desk.
For this first challenge, my breath readings were all very low – indicating that my gut absorbed the lactose without a problem. I also didn’t have any uncomfortable symptoms. It appears I have little to no lactose intolerance. I guess the greek yogurt was not an issue after all.
Next three challenges – Fructose, Inulin, Sorbitol
I tested the next three FODMAP packets over the next few weeks. This time, the results were very different – I had a significant rise in hydrogen levels for all three tests, indicating that none of these three FODMAPs were well absorbed into my gut.
Doing these challenges was really helpful to better understand how my body reacts to these foods. Considering the greek yogurt with honey and banana – since honey has a lot of Fructose, that could be what was bothering me, not the yogurt.
Reading more about the FODMAP challenges, this is not the end of my journey with FoodMarble. Since lots of foods have these ingredients, it would be difficult to just try to eliminate them completely from my diet, especially all at once.
Now that I have a better understanding of these carbohydrates and how I react to them, it can help me make some better choices. Apples are high in sorbitol and fructose, so instead of an apple, I can eat a banana. I often eat wheat bread, which seems to have both inulin and fructose, so I’ll look for a different option.
When I log my meals now in the AIRE app, it has a red mark next to the ones high in FODMAPS from my challenges, so I can quickly identify these and help me make good choices. If I want to try an elimination diet in the future, FoodMarble makes it easy to do a custom challenge with just one food. All I have to do is fast overnight then follow the same process to see how my system reacts to the specific item over a three hour period and beyond.
I haven’t had enough significant symptoms or any kind of doctor’s diagnosis that would encourage me to do anything more specific, but with the FoodMarble AIRE I can keep logging my food and learning about my digestion.
Feedback and suggestions for improvement
The FoodMarble AIRE is a really well-designed, powerful tool to help you learn about your digestion. I’m not an expert on food or digestion, but as a user I have some suggestions.
It took me a few weeks to stumble on to an alcohol warning in the app FAQ. Evidently if you consume alcohol then take a breath reading too soon afterwards, it can have an affect on your results, and possibly damage the sensor.
I drink wine occasionally with dinner, and I had been logging it with my meals, and I didn’t get a warning about it, and I wasn’t paying too much attention to calculating alcohol units. I contacted support and got some additional information. Evidently, I should wait at least one hour for each unit consumed. And one glass is not one unit – depending on the size of the glass and the strength of the wine, it can be up to 3.5 units.
If having a glass of wine and doing a reading could potentially damage my sensor, it would be great if the app could give me a warning when I log it, help me be more specific on units, and adjust my reminders accordingly so I don’t ruin my AIRE device.
Better food database and integration with other services
The FoodMarble database today is small, which is understandable considering the FODMAP data they are tracking. Most food tracking apps for calories have a really strong database, so it seems like a great opportunity to partner with another provider or institution to get access to a better database with more common foods. Maintaining such a database as a small startup doesn’t seem sustainable.
I’m an iPhone user and it would be great to see FoodMarble connected to AppleHealth, so it could automatically access other relevant data and also provide data back for use from other apps. For instance, I use SleepTracker, which provides really detailed data about my sleep every night. FoodMarble could integrate that data instead of asking me every day how I slept.
If you expect to get a FoodMarble AIRE, use it for a few weeks and diagnose all your food digestion issues, this is not for you. It is a powerful tool but it takes commitment on your part to log your meals, any symptoms, and take breath measurements multiple times a day.
If you have Irritable Bowel Syndrome, suspect you have food intolerances or are just curious about how your body reacts to food, the FoodMarble AIRE device and app are great tools to help you understand what is going on with your digestion. If you keep using it over time, it will give you lots of data you can use to experiment with eliminating different foods, and/or share with your doctor to help better diagnose any gastrointestinal issues.
If you’d like to give it a try, you can order a FoodMarble AIRE from their website. Use the code “APPMYH” and you will get a 15 percent discount. We’d suggest you get both the device and the FODMAP program together so you can have access to all the challenges.
If you get one, we’d love to hear what you think. Head over to our Facebook page and share your results!