Are smart devices for healthy eating really a smart idea?

Smart Plate

The Internet of Things (IoT) is changing life as we know it. Virtual assistants are becoming commonplace – playing music, turning on lights and making phone calls. (Are they listening in to your private conversations- I won’t even go into that!). There are devices that can help in monitoring what’s in your fridge so you don’t run out of the essentials and others that help in food prep.

On the nutrition front, smart devices can now almost seem as though they’re your personal nutritionist. They range from tableware that can calibrate the calories along with the protein, fat and carbs on your plate to forks that vibrate if you’re eating too quickly. Though devices might normally be banned from the family dinner table, this is where they’re designed to function – along with all their bells and whistles and alerts.

While there’s no doubt that tools (and nutrition education) are sorely needed by many to help make healthy choices, are these innovative devices potentially helpful or are they harmful, especially in a family setting?

Is this the direction we should be moving towards?

First here’s just a tiny sampling of what’s out there.

According to the company’s promotional information, SmartPlate TopView is the world’s first Intelligent Nutrition Platform that uses advanced photo recognition and AI technology to identify, analyze, and keep track of everything you eat almost instantaneously. Put your food on your Smart Plate, place it on the stand and take a photo. The device will give you calories and your macronutrients such as carbohydrates, saturated fat and protein. If you have pre-set what you want to eat, it will warn you that you’re over your limit.

Liquid calories can contribute significantly to what you consume in a day, especially if you’re dependent on caffeine and sugar boosts to get you through the day. Vessyl claims to do the thinking for you, with internal sensors that analyze the ingredients to determine what, how much and how often you’re drinking—as well as tracking nutritional information such as caffeine intake, calories consumed, and hydration.

One easy way to not overeat—while still enjoying your food—is to simply eat a little bit slower so that your brain and stomach are in sync with what you’re eating. This device includes a capacitive sensor and a built-in vibration motor, HAPIfork (“happy fork”) which will send out gentle physical notifications or flash small indicator lights when it senses that you’re eating much too quickly.

To be honest, as I research these gadgets, I have to wonder: what about getting back to basics instead and learning how to eat and trust our appetites?

The concepts of these devices brings up so many issues. Firstly, I don’t agree with the idea that we should be counting the calories of everything we eat. Instead, we should be looking to fuel our bodies so that we have energy to feel good and be productive throughout the day while at the same time, promoting good health for our tomorrows.

That doesn’t mean just calories. It’s about meal balance and consuming a whole range of beneficial nutrients and delicious food.

As well, these devices may be very handy if you have no idea what’s in your food. If your eats are homemade, then healthy cooking with wholesome ingredients and preparation methods can be your guide, not a plate that sets off an alarm at your table.

As for beverages, getting into a good routine in terms of drink choices is also a smart idea. But if you’re that distracted that you have no idea what you’ve been drinking, then maybe you need to look at changing your focus.

If you’re a professional athlete or training for an event, you might want a device that helps you attain your hydration goals but for the average person, why would you need to figure this out – unless you’re drinking who knows what. If you’re downing too many coffee shop specialty beverages, for example, instead maybe go for some plainer options more often. Not only will it be healthier but it will be easier on your wallet as well.

While there’s obviously a market out there for these devices, if you’re a parent, you might want to think twice about using them at the family dinner table.  Kids have a hard enough time dealing with all the messages about diets and our society’s quest for thinness.

They certainly don’t need to hear more alarm bells.



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Categories: Food Trends, Rosie's Rants

Author:Rosie Schwartz

Rosie Schwartz is a Toronto-based consulting dietitian and writer.

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