Health & wellness

Daily Dose

Harvard grads’ app counts calories on a plate

Wouldn’t it be nice to know how many calories are on your plate by snapping a photo of the meal and having your phone spit back a tally? That’s what Harvard engineering students were trying to develop in a software program called PlateMate.

In a paper presented last month at a software technology conference, the former students - now employed at Microsoft and Google - showcased their method of using crowd-sourcing to estimate portions and identify foods on a plate, information that can then be fed into a software program to estimate the number of calories.

The turnaround time from taking the photo to getting the count was an hour, said Eric Hysen, a Google software engineer who helped develop PlateMate as a Harvard student. The program could be optimized, he added, to develop results in minutes and could be turned into a smartphone app. (Google is not affiliated with it.)

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While the program is still in the experimental stages, it could hit the market sometime this year. I asked Nutrition and You blogger and registered dietician Joan Salge Blake what she thought of it, and she pointed out an important shortfall.

“You can look at a photo of a quiche and have no idea what’s really in it,’’ Blake said. “Is it made with regular cheese or low-fat? Skim milk or whole milk? You’ll only be getting a guesstimate of calories.’’