Almost 700 million people have some health problem with food or eating
For some, eating is the most natural process on Earth. You are hungry, you get some nice food and some company, you sit down and have the meal making you happy and full. These people do not know how lucky they are. Researchers estimate that up to 15 million Americans have food allergies, including 5.9 million children under age 18. That’s 1 in 13 children or roughly two in every classroom. According to some estimations, 1-5 percent of the whole population of the EU has a type of food allergy.
Although it is not easy to measure it, some analysts say that there could be as much as 70 million people worldwide affected by various eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia or binge eating disorder. There are also concerning numbers when we look at the WHO statistics concerning obesity. According to the UN organization, in 2014, more than 1.9 billion adults were overweight; of theses over 600 million were obese. Moreover, worldwide obesity has more than doubled since 1980.
All these issues need to be addressed. Although digital devices, food trackers, calorie counters, etc. cannot offer alone long-term, comprehensive solutions, they could support eating healthily and reduce the harm we do through food to our bodies.
1) Smart utensils
It is not easy to find time for a long meal in our mad, mad world, but I’m sure that you also experienced that eating too fast leads to poor digestion and poor weight control. The HAPIfork, powered by Slow Control, is an electronic fork that helps you monitor and track your eating habits. It also alerts you with the help of indicator lights and gentle vibrations when you are eating too fast.
But what if you experience eating as a living hell? Imagine, that you cannot enjoy your food no matter how great it looks and smells. Your hand is shaking so intensely, you cannot lift your spoon or fork to your mouth without dropping it to the ground. There are many people out there with Essential Tremor, Parkinson’s Disease, or other motion disorders. For them, eating is a torture due to their condition. Designed by Lift Labs which was acquired by Google Life Sciences, Liftware is a stabilizing handle and a selection of attachments that include a soup spoon, everyday spoon, and fork. Liftware is specially designed to improve the lives of those with such motion disorders.
2) Food scanners
There are many uncertainties around eating. Usually, we have no idea what we are eating. Where did the chicken come from that was on your plate at the Indian restaurant last week? Where were the beans or the carrots packaged? What does the pre-packaged tiramisu on the supermarket shelf contain? Many burning questions of 21st-century living, as most of us, urban dwellers, are unfortunately not living near enough to our food sources. The solution might come from food scanners. Canadian TellSpec has developed a hand–held food scanner that can inform users about specific ingredients and macronutrients. The company brings together spectroscopy and a unique mathematical algorithm in a revolutionary system that can analyze the chemical composition of food.
The Israeli company, SCiO, uses a technology similar to TellSpec’s but is designed to identify the molecular content of foods, medicines, and even plants. The company says that in milliseconds the ingredients and molecular make–up of the foodstuff will appear on the user’s smartphone. However, their promises have yet to be fulfilled, as the scanner, they introduced on the market does not exactly deliver what the demo did.
The Nima gluten-sensor (already on the market!) was named one of Time Magazine’s 25 best inventions of 2015. It is a portable, nicely designed gadget. The Nima is able to tell you from a small food sample within two minutes, whether the food on your plate contains gluten. The firm also aims to apply its technology to detect other food allergens, including peanuts and dairy. They plan to introduce their peanut sensor in fall 2017.
It is a brand-new cross-field combining genetics and nutrition science. The basic idea behind nutrigenomics is that our genome reveals valuable information about our organism’s needs, which we should map out and utilize in order to lead a long and healthy life. After having your DNA sequenced (perhaps already at home!), a smart app could let you know which food you should eat and what you should avoid at all cost. As we are all genetically different, our diet should be personalized.
For example, the California-based start-up, Habit, plans to use genetic markers to identify the ideal meal for each of its customers and send that meal directly to their doors. You only need to send back their required blood sample kit, do their so-called “metabolic challenge” and provide a series of body metrics like height, weight, and waist circumference as well as lifestyle habits like how often a person walks, runs, or exercises. All of this analysis leads to a personalized meal plan of foods that works best for the user’s body.
4) Calorie counters
Finding the ideal weight is a challenge for many people; while there are as many bits of advice regarding healthy eating and diets as sand in the desert. While there is a lot of debate around calories as well, it is common knowledge that if you reduce your calorie intake to a certain amount, you will lose weight. You should obviously not forget about the quality of your food while cutting on calorie intake to make sure you feel good and ultimately shift the fat in the long term – not just the weight in the short term.
But first things first. If you want to know your eating habits better and see how much you are really eating, you might want to use a calorie tracker. Similarly to counting steps and following your fitness activities closely, there are plenty of trackers on calories on the market. For example, you definitely know Fitbit and the Fitbit Surge as your fitness companion; but you should also consider the Fitbit Charge 2 as your choice for the best of what the company has to offer for calorie counting. Although if you do not want to have a separate wearable just for calories, you can choose from many apps whose goal is to help you log your meals. If so, let’s try MyFitnessPal, Lifesum, Calorie Counter Pro, HAPIcoach or Noom Coach.
My favorites are MyFitnessPal and HAPIcoach. Both are great for diet management and calorie counting. MyFitnessPal has over 5 million food items in its database and it is super easy to log what kind of food or drink you had during the day. Moreover, the counter can be synced with various health apps, fitness bands or smart scales. With HAPIcoach, you can take a photo of your meals for 5 consecutive days; then send them back to a real nutritionist, who will give you advice on how to adjust your diet to the ideal. It’s a great way to acquire your very own, personalized diet.
5) Food chatbots
Has it ever happened to you that you stood in the middle of a supermarket wondering about where the tortilla chips with jalapeno dip are and whether they are very far away from shampoo so that you have to make another round in the store again? Has it ever happened to you that you had no idea what to eat or what to cook tomorrow that does not involve asparagus which you have been eating for the whole week already?
Food chatbots might be here to help you. In 2016, Whole Foods announced the launch of their very own chatbot developed by Conversable. It lets customers browse through the store find products, and then, with a few taps in a Facebook Messenger chatbot, find recipes for an upcoming meal. So, you just select a tomato emoji, and the chatbot will find you great recipes for spaghetti bolognese for example. The Food Network TV Channel launched a similar chatbot: you can search for various recipes by ingredient, meal type, your favorite chef or show. Both sound like a lot of fun and a great way to explore new ways in cooking.
See how some of these work in action and how they could be used to improve eating habits in the newest video of The Medical Futurist Youtube channel. And please let me know if you know about other great innovations.