This site uses cookies to store information on your computer. Learn more x


Providing perspectives on recent research into vitamins and nutritionals


Don’t Like Counting Calories, Better Nutrition Tools are Coming

By Michael McBurney

In the New York Times, Margo Sanger-Katz writes about the difficulties researchers have in assessing food intake. Based on three sets of data, the federally-executed National Health and Nutrition Evaluation Survey (NHANES) of approximately 8,000 individuals, the Nielsen consumer data company tracking of in-store food purchases of 100,000 families, and the United States Department of Agriculture tracking all food grown and sold in the US, three trends are identified.

The trends in America are:

1) Children and adults living with them are consuming fewer calories.

2) Fewer calories are being consumed as beverages.

3) No change in fruit and vegetable consumption can be seen despite educational efforts.

It is possible that  new image processing and pattern recognition capabilities of mobile phones will improve dietary assessments. However, I am a stronger proponent of measuring nutrition status.

Clinical testing is the foundation of standard of care for those with heart disease (blood cholesterol) or diabetes (blood glucose). Blood testing gives individuals and health care providers real monitoring data. Why not for nutritional status and the prevention of non-communicable chronic disease?

The concept of being able to walk into a retail center to get blood cholesterol and glycosylated hemoglobin measured using minimally-invasive techniques can be extended to iron, vitamin D and other nutrients. Knowing, and monitoring nutrition status (weight, blood pressure,  and blood cholesterol, vitamins A, C, D, E, B12, folate, iron, zinc, and urinary iodine) has the potential to change lives. With such information, individuals, nutritionists and dietitians can work together to prioritize their health goals.

Income security, nutrition and fitness, and access to healthcare affect risk of malnutrition and chronic disease. Web-based interventions can help screen and connect with at-risk individuals. Similar lab-on-a-chip technologies have the potential to transform nutrition status testing just as portable pregnancy tests empowered women globally.

Researchers are already embracing smartphone technologies to quantify vitamin D concentrations in villages where it is difficult to transport samples and maintain integrity until they reach a clinical laboratory.

By refocusing resources from dietary tools with all their vagaries, researchers will compare nutrient profiles to identify less invasive, more consumer-acceptable measures of nutritional status.

Main Citation

Probst Y, Nguyen DT, Tran MK, Li W. Dietary assessment on a mobile phone using image processing and pattern recognition techniques: Algorithm design and system prototyping. 2015 Nutrients doi: 10.3390/nu7085274

Other Citations

Erickson D, O’Dell D, Jiang L, Oncescu V, Gumus A, Lee S, Mancusso M, Mehta S. Smartphone technology can be transformative to the deployment of lab-on-a-chip diagnostics. 2014 Lab Chip doi: 10.1039/C4LC00142G

Lee S, Oncescu V, Mancuso M, Mehta S, Erickson D. A smartphone platform for the quantification of vitamin D levels. 2014 Lab Chip doi: 10.1039/C3LC51375K

Hassan A, Scherer EA, Pikcilingis A, Krull E, McNickles L, Marmon G, Woods ER, Fleegler EW. Improving social determinants of health. 2015 Prev Med doi: 10.1016/j.amepre.2015.04.023

Walker CG, Browing LM, Stecher L, West AL, Madden J, Jebb SA, Calder PC. Fatty acid profiles of plasma NEFA does not reflect adipose tissue fatty acid profile. 2015 Br J Nutr doi: 10.1017/S0007114515002251