Although we have not yet entered the sci-fi realm of technology that measures the exact amounts of calories and nutrients that enter our bodies, handheld scanners can now detect the ingredients and calories in our food. A new gadget, known as SCiO, can reveal the nutritional value of a meal by scanning its chemical makeup. The scanner can harness the power of chemistry and physics to determine everything from the sugar content in a glass of orange juice to whether someone has drugged your drink. The gadget makes use of the technology known as spectroscopy. It uses beams of light to detect some carbohydrates, fats, and proteins in food. After detecting the “molecular signature” of a meal, it sends the details to the connected smartphone using its Bluetooth connection. The technology behind SCiO has been around for several decades and is used often in the sewage and oil industries and in and chemical quality control. The device holds a battery charge for up to a week and weighs twenty grams.
Remy and Astrid Bonnasse worked with Israel-based Consumer Physics to launch this device when their 9-year old daughter was diagnosed with diabetes, which required her to keep a close eye on her carbohydrate intake after every meal.
The device is primarily aimed to help people suffering from cardiovascular diseases and diabetes closely monitor their diet. The scanner can also be useful to people keeping to a diet, and for eating at restaurants where food labeling is usually not available.
In a demo, the demonstrator held the scanner over a piece of cheese. With a click of a button, the corresponding app was able to provide the nutritional content. The data was then added to a health profile, which displayed a progress chart of the individual’s daily food intake.
The scanner only reads homogenous food items (such as bread or a piece of fruit). It will not be able to pick up all ingredients in a multi-component meal, such as a slice of pizza or a sandwich. The app, however, permits the manual input of more complex meals. The scanner is available on the market for $249, while the app requires a $10 monthly fee.
TellSpec is another handheld gadget that keeps track of calorie counts and provides information on the nutritional value of a food item. It uses lasers to assess the chemical composition of a meal and uses an algorithm to calculate the number of calories, whether or not the food contains trans fats or gluten, and so on. TellSpec offers two years of unlimited food scan analysis for $150. Isabel Hoffmann created the TellSpec, and conceived the idea for her daughter, who has food allergies.
This technology has the potential of changing our relationship with food. For example, consumers would no longer have to worry about incomplete or absent nutrirional labels, since they could just scan their food item to obtain more information. However, before this product gains a wide reach, and becomes a realistic choice for consumers only when prices go down.