Nutritional Information: from Labelling to the Connected Plate

By May 21, 2015
connected plate

US startup Fitly has developed a ‘smart’ plate which provides exact details of the calorie count of a given dish. This is just one of several examples of the way new information and communication technologies are making an impact on the food sector.

An increasing number of US citizens are becoming concerned about what they actually have on their plates. However, between the – frequently mutually contradictory – advice from nutritionists, labelling that is rarely 100% reliable, and the laborious mental gymnastics required to calculate the calorie content of a balanced meal, optimising your eating regime may often seem like ‘mission impossible’. Now however, Philadelphia-based startup Fitly, which is on a mission to encourage its compatriots to eat more healthily, is planning to provide help consumers with a reliable, user-friendly means of working out how many calories their lunch contains. The Fitly brainchild is a smart plate with three digital cameras that is able – claimed its creator Anthony Ortiz in an interview with non-profit community education organisation Co.Exist – to scan each component of your meal with 99% accuracy.

What’s on your plate? Smart objects and smartphone apps help you obtain exact information

Basic information plus healthy advice

In addition, sensors under the plate are designed to measure the exact weight of each portion so as to calculate the exact percentage of each ingredient in a mixed dressed tuna salad or a chili con carne. All this data is then fed into an app, which calculates the calorie content of the meal that you are about to eat. One snag is that, for the system to work properly, the ingredients must be visible to the camera. So if you want to find out the number of calories in your pizza calzone – where the dough is folded over and closed – you will need to cut it in two and open it up to the cameras.

But that’s not all SmartPlate can do. The device can also tell you when you are eating too fast. Experts reckon that it takes around twenty minutes for the brain to signal to the stomach that it is full. So if you eat too quickly you will usually tend to eat more than you really need. And this futuristic plate is not happy just to provide you with basic information either. It’s also keen to give you advice. You can programme it to follow a specific diet, for example to train for a competitive sports event, or to help treat an illness such as diabetes which requires you to keep a careful watch on what you eat. In addition, the app will offer some simple suggestions to help lower the calorie count on your plate, such as replacing processed white rice with whole grain rice. Lastly – given that SmartPlate is only one string to Fitly’s bow – it also gives the user suggestions for dishes to order in. Fitly’s main established business is a system for delivering fresh produce to help users cook simple, healthy meals. You can choose from several payment plans, from three to twenty-one days, which provide for delivery of three complete meals plus two snacks per day during the subscription period. This subscription model is one of the current Foodtech trends on which L’Atelier reported in February. Competitors abound, from Blue Apron to Hello Fresh to Chefday! – all headquartered in New York.

A wide range of innovations with the same goal: helping people eat better

Connected objects feeding foodtech apps

SmartPlate is only one example among many of the rise of connected objects in the food sector, from the fork which encourages its owner to eat more slowly to the Nutricook Pressure Cooker that claims to preserve the nutritional qualities of food during cooking. Recently, South Korean electronics and domestic appliances company LG has developed a refrigerator which helps you to reduce waste by noting the expiry date of products stored inside and enables the owner to see what is inside without having to open the door, which over time will lead to non-negligible energy savings.

Lastly, among the competitors to Fitly’s SmartPlate we should mention SCiO, a tiny device that enables you to scan any foodstuff – or practically any item or substance – in order to find out its exact chemical composition. This handheld molecular spectrometer took the world by storm on Kickstarter last year, with over $2,700,000 pledged during the crowdfunding campaign. However, in contrast with Fitly’s SmartPlate, SCiO can only scan a small area and so cannot be used to give the composition of the entire dish.


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