Ever wonder exactly how many calories are contained in the food you dish onto your dinner plate? Your days of trying to eyeball portion sizes and tediously add up calorie counts may be over within the next five years. Researchers from General Electric are hard at work developing a tool that can measure the number of calories in your meal with the mere push of a button.
Senior scientist Matt Webster, who works at GE’s labs in upstate New York, first came up with the idea for his universal calorie counter in 2009, after asking his wife if she’d like a fitness-tracking device for her birthday.
“She surprised me by saying she wanted something that measured the calories she ate, not burned off,” Webster says.
Intrigued, Webster got to work turning this idea into a reality. The first steps: finding the technology that would enable him to calculate the nutritional value of an entire meal.
Based on data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Nutrient Database, Webster and his team were able to develop a simple equation that allowed them to estimate the total calorie count of a plate of food based on its weight, total fat content and water content.
Using a technology called microwave spectrometry, which is often used for quality control purposes in food processing plants, the researchers tested their technique by measuring the fat and H20 contents in a liquid solution. After 40 to 50 tests, the researchers confirmed that their equation enabled them to measure calories counts to within five to 10 percent accuracy. And the entire procedure took just seconds.
Now, Webster says he and his team are working on developing “a device you can stick a plate of food in, press a button, and get calories.”
Research indicates an automatic calorie-counting device could prove highly valuable in the battle of the bulge. A 2013 study published in the British Medical Journal showed that two-thirds of people eating at fast food restaurants underestimated their calorie intake — and about a quarter of participants were off by at least 500 calories.
While a similar calorie-counting tool for beverages, called Vessyl, was recently introduced, few options exist for food. Some apps allow users to take pictures of food, or meals, and have calories calculated by a computer program (or sent to a nutritionist for analysis), but those devices still rely on approximate measurements.
Though the GE plate still needs two to three more years of testing, Webster says they envision it someday becoming a mainstream weight loss tool, used alongside fitness trackers and other weight-tracking devices.
“That would be the whole package — easy counting of calories in, calories out and how that’s affecting your weight,” Webster says.
Though it’s still early to predict pricing, GE estimates a device like this could potentially retail for $200 to $400 in coming years. Worth it? You tell us.