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iPhone app gleans healthy grub nearby

Service called Mealsearch is designed, among other things, to give people a way to find restaurants and meals that meet their dietary criteria.

If you've got an iPhone and a desire to maintain a healthier diet, the folks at a start-up called WebDiet may have your order.

The company, founded by Wendell Brown and Craig Gold, veterans of previous ventures like Teleo and eVoice, is expected to launch an iPhone app Monday at the DemoFall conference in San Diego. The app is designed to give people the information they need to eat better when they eat out.

WebDiet's new iPhone app searches for restaurants that meet certain dietary criteria. The service is expected to be available on additional mobile devices later this year. WebDiet

The company's new iPhone app has two major elements.

The first, called Mealsearch, is built to help people find healthy restaurant food no matter where they are.

According to Brown, it works by having people enter various dietary criteria that are important to them--such as being vegetarian, vegan, kosher, or wanting low- calorie or low-carb meals--and then combines that information with location-based data.

In the early going, the company is focusing on restaurants and restaurant chains with online menus. This means that some of the early restaurants in the system include fast-food chains like McDonald's.

And while it might be counter-intuitive to include fast-food, Gold, himself a vegan, said the idea is that even such restaurants have some items that are healthier than, say, a Big Mac.

For example, Gold said, McDonald's will wrap a hamburger in lettuce instead of a bun for those looking for lower carb diets.

And that's precisely one of the points of the software: It aggregates and suggests off-the-menu options so that people can find food that meets their needs even at places they wouldn't expect.

The second major part of the service, which works in combination with Mealsearch, is a meal-by-meal guidance system, Brown said.

It is designed to keep track of what people eat--so long as they are committed to entering that information on an ongoing basis--and will make meal suggestions based on what people have already eaten on a given day.

So, Brown said, if a person has a large lunch, the system will (politely) suggest a dinner lighter on calories.

The service will be available initially for the iPhone but will also be coming to the BlackBerry, Nokia phones, and potentially Google's Android down the line, Brown said.

Finally, the software lets people enter UPC bar codes of foods to build a database of things they like to eat and to learn about the nutritional value of what they're consuming.

So far, WebDiet has added a quarter-million UPC codes into its system and expects to add more over time.

And as it grows, WebDiet is hoping to bring in revenue through commissions on orders placed at restaurants through a "buy now" system that lets people place advance orders. WebDiet will also collect revenue from some location-based ads that appear on people's devices when they're using the software.