New digital tool supports accurate dietary reporting

Monitoring ones diet has become one of the staples of the quantified self movement, with a number of tools emerging to assist people who wish to better manage what they eat.

The latest of these is a new tool developed by researchers at the University of Leeds.  Myfood24 is an online dietary assessment tool that is designed to support the accurate recording of food intake.  It has data on over 40,000 nutrients, including the most complete food composition table in the world.

Accurate intake

Suffice to say, it’s a very crowded marketplace, so what makes the app different?  In a word, accuracy.  There are no shortage of diet and weight related apps on the market, but studies find that they are typically far from accurate, with a 10-14% margin of error the norm.

This is bad enough for consumers, but the issue is equally damaging for researchers who are often reliant upon inaccurate data, as self-reporting is the standard way of monitoring dietary intake.  Getting accurate figures is especially problematic for overweight people, who typically under-report their consumption of unhealthy food, and over-report their intake of healthy food.

Central to overcoming this is having comprehensive food composition tables so we know exactly what is in our food.  Unfortunately, standard tables typically list around 3,000 different food items, with the data on each generic rather than brand specific.  What’s more, the nutritional labels on pre-packed foods often omit things such as fiber or vitamins.

So, myfood24 was created with support from the Medical Research Council (MRC).  It features a comprehensive food composition table with modern technology to make this data more accessible.  It also features a range of generic and branded food.

As you might expect with support from the MRC, the tool has been initially built with researchers and clinicians in mind, and aims to help them track and monitor nutritional intake.  There is obviously considerable scope for a more public facing tool, and whilst anyone can use the demo, the interface would need polishing to bring it up to speed with market leading products.

Dietary support

It’s hoped that the tool will significantly streamline the way in which researchers and clinicians monitor the dietary intake of their patients, and will significantly improve the accuracy of self-reporting.

The tool is still at an early stage, and hopefully will develop a slightly more refined interface to appeal to the public, but the data it’s built on is certainly comprehensive so there is clearly potential.

Maybe in time, they can adopt some of the AI based functionality I wrote about recently, whereby A startup, called Lipigenia, uses blood samples to determine the most appropriate diet for us, and the new partnership will see users given a membrane lipidomics tool, which will analyze the fatty acid profile of the cell membrane.  This allows the creation of a direct relationship between our diet and the metabolic alterations it creates.

The partnership eventually hopes to develop specific foods and supplements for these population segments to give them the precise nutrition they need to suit their personal characteristics.  It’s the early stages of a partnership that will eventually seek to develop profiles for people with a range of conditions, from cancer and obesity to diabetes and Alzheimer’s.

Hopefully all of these early stage projects will begin to coalesce around something truly groundbreaking for the public and research communities alike.

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