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  • Collecting a body of data

    Eat smarter with help of data

    • With all the wonders of modern technology, we're used to knowing the exact statistical details of everything we do: how many steps we've walked, what our gas mileage is, our favorite athlete's stats, even how to measure our blood sugar levels or alcohol content. We’re used to having access to data points, and we expect it everywhere.

      Yet one of the things we've tracked the longest, diet, is still one of our biggest mysteries. According to Gallup studies, half of Americans say they're trying to lose weight, but a quarter of us are confused about how to eat right. Nutritional labels can tell us what's in our food, but keeping track of everything we eat, much less what's in it, can be a major chore.

      All that’s changing. With the advent of wearable technologies and diet-tracking apps, it's a lot easier to track what you eat and what's in it, and how much exercise you're getting to complement it. Instead of remembering how much iron there is in a handful of spinach, your phone or wristwatch can now do it for you, and compute a detailed picture of your diet.

      But as exciting as wearables are, they can only fill in part of the picture. They can help you track what you're eating, but not necessarily the actual effect it has on you. The digital health industry is looking to make those complexities accessible—telling you not just how many calories were in that apple, but how your body metabolized them.

      One of the big questions is, what can you actually measure? Many modern methods directly measure your pulse, and can track the number of steps you take, but rely on you to input what you eat. But there's new tech in the works that actually takes your body chemistry into account.

      Researchers are working on technology that will analyze changes in your sweat and relate it back to your body chemistry. And based on advances made for diabetes patients, wearable devices that directly measure your blood sugar are on the horizon, which could potentially expand to measuring the mix of vitamins, hormones, and other essential components in your blood, showing you exactly how your body is using what you're eating.

      Even the shape these devices take is in flux, potentially moving away from the familiar wristband towards something as unobtrusive as an adhesive patch, based on the same sort of adhesive technology that keeps all sorts of bandages in place.

      These advances aren't just limited to what's happening in healthcare—just imagine the amplifying effect that advances in augmented reality and mobile technology might have on our awareness of our diets and ourselves.

      As our lives become more connected, and technology more advanced, each new discovery will open up a world of opportunities. With a complete and continuous picture of your diet, and the effect it's having, we'll be able to do more than understand the impact of past decisions—we'll be able to make more informed choices in the moment.