You can read labels all day, but sometimes it's kind of hard to really know what's in that powerbar you're about to devour after the gym. But what if you had an iPod-sized device that you could point at whatever you're about to eat that could tell you exactly what's really in there?
One of the new devices turning heads this week at the annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas is ConsumerPhysics' pocket-sized, SCiO, a molecular sensor that helps you figure out the chemical makeup of your food or drink using near-infrared spectroscopy (for the non-molecular geniuses among us, that's the analysis of how molecules interact using light).
Remy Bonnasse told MTV News that the app he and his wife developed for the SCiO DietSensor, could work for anyone who wants to monitor their food intake, but the real audience is people with chronic health conditions like heart disease or diabetes.
"Right now we're the only ones using [the SCiO] for this kind of food application," Bonnasse told MTV News of the app, which currently contains a database of 600,000 food and beverage items from 50 countries in 19 languages.
Bonnasse said he and wife Astrid came up with the idea in 2014 after their 9-year-old daughter was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, which required them to monitor her carb intake at every meal while measuring her insulin levels.
The spectroscopy technology has been around for a while, but the $249 SCiO (and the $10-a-month app, which Bonnasse said should both be available by mid-2016) is the first device to bring it to the consumer level. For now it mostly works on basic foods like bread, cheese or mashed potatoes, though you can manually input data for more complex meals like pizza, lasagna or sandwiches through the app.
After aiming the SCiO at a piece of food and clicking, users can go to the app to find out the fat and carbohydrate content of their meal as well as get some suggestions on how much more of that food group they should ingest in a given period.
"So many of the apps out there are tedious. We thought of this after our daughter was diagnosed because she had to start counting carbs and reading labels using the other apps on the market, which was time-consuming, and eating was becoming a problem and very stressful. It was impacting her social life, making things like eating cake at a birthday party very complex," he said.
Bonnasse said that though 40 million people use meal logging apps, there are 100 million other adults who are overweight or have a chronic disease who currently don't because there isn't a convenient app like DietSensor. "For our daughter and that 100 million we wanted a technology that could log food with a click of a button and a scan that takes 2 seconds, not 20-30 clicks per food."
Each scan sends a beam of infrared light onto the surface of the food and, because every cell vibrates in its own unique way, the interaction with that beam of light sends back a unique fingerprint to the cloud. That fingerprint is compared to the items in DietSensor's database, which sends data back to your smarthphone with a list of nutrients, fat, carbohydrates and protein. The company is also building a database of advice from physicians that will offer suggestions based on your personal profile.
"When you have heart disease or type 2 diabetes you have to balance carbs, fat and protein, so the advice can give them goals they should follow and tell them what to cut back or or suggest foods that will balance out their meal," Bonnasse said.