Jul 15, 2014 04:17 AM EDT
A senior scientist with General Electric is developing new technology that counts calories before an individual consumes them. Matt Webster, the lead developer, stumbled onto the idea from trying to shop for a present for his wife's birthday.
She told Webster she wanted an activity monitor that helped her count the calories she was going to consume. Apps and gadgets record calories burned in exercise or tally calories in an individual's food diary, but Webster soon realized no product gave the user nutritional information before the person ate the food.
"I was like, 'That's not the answer to my question,'" Webster said. "You're asking me for something that's impossible and doesn't exist."
To solve his problem, Webster decided to create a device to do what his wife wanted. He and his team are creating a device that analyzes fat and water content, as well as weight. All other nutritional information, including protein and fiber, can be determined by subtracting from the fat and water content. Webster said that with that data, the device can accurately estimate the number of calories on the plate.
Engineers are still working on getting the device to calculate information with mixtures, such as soup and other blended foods. The results from the prototypes are within 5 to 10 percent of standard measuring procedure. Solid food will be the next phase.
The device still needs a lot of work and will likely take several years before being ready for consumers.
"It'll take a while before [my wife] actually gets it," Webster said. "Hopefully she'll still want it."
Other devices in development include a product that analyzes the surface of any food and looks up the information in an internally programmed database. However, foods like sandwiches and burritos, whose calories are mostly not seen at surface level, would be difficult to read.
"We're looking at waves that pass all the way through the food. So you're getting a complete measurement of the entire food," Webster said.
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