Crowdsourced Calories Replace Food Logs

Don’t try this when you’re a dinner guest. On the other hand, if you are in a restaurant with friends, go ahead. Have fun with PlateMate. Whip out your smartphone. Snap a photo. Then ask for crowdsourcing advice on how many calories, fat, carbohydrates and protein you are about to consume. The answer will come back in about an hour, while you’re still suffering heartburn from the Double Down Sandwich Combo you just ate.

Four Harvard students — Jon Noronha, Eric Hysen, Haoqi Zhang and Krzysztof Gajos — created PlateMate after being inspired by the Remote Food Photography Method. RFPM is a means of gaining more accurate information about food intake than asking people to keep a food log. Instead, they use smartphones to photograph what they are about to eat.

When they have had enough, they photograph whatever is left on the plate. Registered dietitians look at the photographs and analyze the amount of food eaten and wasted. The data is fed into a computer application that automatically calculates grams, calories, nutrients, waste and intake based on a USDA database.

The students wanted to make a similar system available to anyone via a smartphone app, so they tinkered with the technology, created a method, and tested it on two groups of students. PlateMate yielded results only slightly less accurate than trained dietitians. Using Amazon Mechanical Turk, the crowd (or Turkers) looked over the photos, identified foods and quantities, and fed them into software that did the estimating.

They did run into some challenges. PlateMate kept identifying a low-fat latte as coffee with cream and low-fat salad dressing as the full-fat version. However, trained dietitians overestimated caloric intake by 5.5%, PlateMate by 7.4%. Either way, the fudge factor is in the right direction since presumably weight loss would be the main reason for using the application.

Meal Snap already offers crowd-sourced calorie counting, though has some accuracy challenges to work out. The engineering students, now graduates working for Microsoft and Google, figure PlateMate can be optimized to give faster and more accurate results. Expect the app to be commercially available before long.

Related Care2 Stories

Apple Pulls App Revealing Abuses in iPhone Manufacturing

America’s Dangerous Diet

How a Salad Can Ruin Your Diet

Photo from beglib via

Love This? Never Miss Another Story.


Joy Wong
Joy Wong4 years ago

Thanks for sharing.

Mandi A.
Amanda Adams4 years ago


Joe R.
Joe R.4 years ago

I don't know how they can calculate the nutrient or calorie content from a picture. May be fun but not too reliable.

Andrew Carvin
Andrew Carvin4 years ago

.....Or you could just eat at home where you can regulate your calories intake xactly instead of using "best guess"

Eat At Home
A good meal is only moments away with modern appliances, and there is no reason that you should continue giving your money to the large corporations that own all the restaurants. Have dinner with your family, invite your friends over, and celebrate with every bite as the stocks of rich people plummet.

Cathy Noftz
Cathy Noftz4 years ago

~A great if you absolutely need all info the food you're going to eat!~

Robert Hardy
Robert Hardy4 years ago


iii q.
g d c.4 years ago

people are so lazy... if one is dieting, one needsa to learn and

Rebecca Smith
Rebecca Smith4 years ago

Very interesting, I'm glad that these students were so innovative and invented something that people could readily and easily use.

Edgar Zuim
Edgar Zuim4 years ago

Very interesting. It is valuable to know what we eat.

Jerry t.
Jerold t.4 years ago

Yeah, right. What, exactly, is smart about a smart phone?
Cooking methods alone would undercut much of this. Organic? Locally grown? Been in the freezer for a decade or two? How many calories does a porterhouse steak have after it's been picked up off of the floor?
My brain hurts now, I need a snack, can I borrow someone's smartphone?