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Tracking How Much Food We Eat Can Be a Challenge

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The Good, the Bad and the Fattening continued...

In the United States, the higher their body mass index (BMI), the more people underestimate how much they ate, he says. And for the most part, the longer people keep food diaries, he says, the more likely they are to trim the fat, so to speak, from their entries.

So what’s a scientist or a dieter supposed to do?

Schoeller has tried asking people to provide before-and-after photos of their plates, bowls, and glasses. After all, food photos are nearly as popular as selfies in social media these days.

“But you have to analyze it, which is a lot of work,” he says. Then you run into the same problem you do with food diaries: People might not want to photograph that second or third helping of mashed potatoes or wine.

A microphone attached to your neck can provide information on how frequently you chew and swallow. “It tells you a little bit about what’s being eaten,” Schoeller says. “You can tell if it’s a crunchy food or a soft food. Of course, the participant does have to be willing to wear it.”

Then there’s the HAPIfork, which will set dieters back $100, and the related wrist actigraph devices. The actigraph devices are commonly used in sleep studies to study sleep based on movement. But they can also be set to track wrist movements from plate to mouth.

While these less traditional devices provide objective information about the timing and frequency of meals and snacks, “they are not good at identifying what the food is at all,” Schoeller says.

Toward that goal, scientists are working to identify biomarkers, or footprints, of specific foods, in blood, saliva, and urine. Some studies are now starting to use biomarkers in addition to participants’ eating records.

These findings were presented at a medical conference. They should be considered preliminary as they have not yet undergone the "peer review" process, in which outside experts scrutinize the data prior to publication in a medical journal.

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