For those of you that meticulously count calories, the days of demonic scales, points and “guestimating”¯ could soon be behind you.
Researchers have created a “fly on the wall”¯ calorie-measuring device that is both portable, automatic and accurate. Their findings were recently published online in the Measurement Science and Technology journal.
This new health gadget on trial is known as the eButton, a small computer that determines how many calories are in your food by comparing images of your meal against a library of 3D geometric shapes. The device somewhat subtly clips to your shirt like a badge and is powered by a Linux or Android operating system.
Problems With the eButton (And Calorie Counting in General)
The eButton was tested on 17 different foods, with an average error range of only 3.69%. Compare that with visual estimation which has an average error of 20%, and we seem to have a clear winner.
However, the eButton does often miss small foods, such as tomato sauce, and concave objects, such as a scoop of ice cream. Further, food volume estimation can be greatly skewed by differing ingredient choices and variations in cooking methods across different cultures.
Whilst knowing exactly how many calories are in your Sunday roast might seem like a good idea on the surface, dig a little deeper and you’ll discover that calories in equals calories out is not that straight forward.
In fact, it’s wrong.
The assortment of foods and nutrients we eat, such as different types of proteins, fats and carbohydrates, go through different metabolic pathways after digestion. Consequently they affect many metabolic hormones, the key influencers of low-grade inflammation and associated weight gain, in different ways.
To say that ”a calorie is just a calorie” is very untrue. For example, just think about a bowl of French fries versus a bowl of walnuts. They have equal calories, but the ways these foods affect your body are very different.
Better Applications for the eButton
The good news is, apart from just counting calories, researchers are also working on other applications for the eButton.
Dr. Mingui Sun, co-author of the study and professor of Neurology Surgery at the University of Pittsburgh, told Medical News Today, “We are also doing research in using it [the eButton] to help the blind find their way, monitor children’s food intake [and] study gain and balance for the elderly to prevent falls.”
We’re already bogged down in a society obsessed with numbers, whether it’s the digits on the back of a Mars Bar or the digits staring back up at you on the scales. Perhaps providing people with novel ways of focusing on calories won’t be beneficial in the long run… Maybe it’ll be even more detrimental?
What do you think? Please leave your say in the comments.
Photo credit: Thinkstock
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