Omelette Challenge

The dream of the perfect calorie-counting app has been dreamt, and over the last few months, companies have attempted to actualize the ambition. The heralded breakthrough arrived earlier this year with MealSnap. The technology is pretty simple from a user’s perspective: Take a photo of your meal, upload and “auto magically” wait for a number. General reviews have all come to a similar conclusion: The calorie counts are very broad, but at least an app making you conscious of what you eat exists.

I’ve never been a calorie counter, though as someone who works in fitness, I am fascinated by how seriously some people take calories. Big business awaits the company that nails this technology. With the 99-cent app downloaded to my iPhone, I had to first test its boundaries. So I took a photo of my keyboard. After four minutes, I received my first auto-magic response: Whoops! This is not food. 0 calories.

Fully assured that MealSnap was not joking around, I cooked up brunch: A two-egg omelette with Monterey jack and Feta, accompanied by ginger mashed yams and two slices of Red Bhutan Rice bread. I wasn’t sure how MealSnap would have recognized that the yams were made with coconut milk, significantly increasing any calorie count, but I wasn’t entering the optional key words. If a picture is worth a thousand words, I wanted to know if this one was a thousand calories by the program’s merits, not due to me sending it a cheat sheet.

With its little clock ticking, MealSnap went hard to work. And stayed there, in fact, for over 10 minutes, until my meal was over. Shortly after finishing my plate, a response came: Scrambled Eggs. 127-191 calories. According to MealSnap the yams and bread were on par with my keyboard, though I’m pretty certain they tasted a lot better.

Nevertheless, the calorie-counting cavalcade continues, with an upcoming app called PlateMate. Developed by Harvard engineering grads working for Microsoft and Google, this program works on a similar premise—take a photo, upload and wait—only instead of auto-magic, PlateMate sends the photos to a group of online analyzers. Some individuals are hired to determine portion size, while others identify the food. Between the two, they guesstimate the calories and reply, hopefully before the meal gets cold… if only we shall all be so lucky.

Keep in touch with Derek on Twitter @derekberes

Image: Omelette Challenge #3