Could artificial intelligence (AI) be planning your meals soon? Ongoing research indicates it may be our new reality. AI is a relatively new branch of computer science that uses software to mimic human intelligence to complete human tasks. Despite AI only being around for a little over half a century, it seems to be the way of the future, and researchers are trying to integrate it into the medical field, including nutrition. AI algorithms are generally useful when processing large amounts of data, which makes it ideal for processing nutritional data and “may help better understand and predict the complex and non-linear interactions between nutrition-related data and health outcomes” . This new technology can aid nutritionists and provide patients with personalized meal plans, while factoring in the patient’s genetic predisposition for certain diseases and weight management goals .
Healthcare is taking advantage of technology through apps such as Apple’s Health app and smartwatches. AI seeks to build upon these technologies to reduce the need for human input, which requires lengthy planning and coding of exact steps, while also maintaining accuracy and efficiency. Machine learning is a subset of AI that aims for machines to use past data to understand how to react to and interpret data without having it explicitly programmed like traditional AI requires. Machine learning has already undergone a trial in Israel to determine its efficiency in diet optimization compared to a plan created by a dietician. The study was deemed successful and the technology is already implemented in the Day Two app, which aids users with their nutrition goals by suggesting modifications to the foods they already love .
Diet optimization is useful for weight management. An important aspect of weight management tracking intake through a food diary. Wearable technologies, like your smartwatch can replace a physical food diary and digitally track your dietary intake. Research is also being done for smartwatches to use sensors that track images, sound, and motion to recognize food and separate eating wrist movements from other movements . Tracking sound allows the device to detect your chewing and swallowing noises to determine the quality of the food you're eating. For instance, “in a study using a tiny microphone embedded in an ear device, researchers created a sound-based recognition system that was able to distinguish between three test foods (potato chips, lettuce, and apple) with 94% accuracy” . Likewise, image recognition can help devices identify the portion sizes you consume . Given that “obesity is a public health problem that causes various health problems''  and the combined effect of AI being able to both track what you eat, as well as provide dietary assessments with that information can make dieting more manageable. Genetic disposition to diseases like cancer and cardiovascular diseases requires individuals to be more cautious of what they consume to avert life-changing illnesses.
Cancer is known to be a difficult illness to treat with unexpected side effects. One critical factor is “proper nutrition [which] is extremely important during treatment to fight cancer”  as “chemotherapy directly affects the nutritional status of these patients” . Chemotherapy causes nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea which makes proper nutrition a monumental challenge but nutritional therapy can help the patient recover. The DanaFarber Cancer Institute published a free nutrition app, Ask the Nutritionist: Recipes for Fighting Cancer, which provides personalized nutritional advice to “find the optimal diet for any type of cancer” . Studies showed that in the app “the use of AI in the nutritional monitoring of people with cancer is still scarce, but some technologies have been used for adequate nutritional management” . Although nutritional monitoring for cancer patients is scarce, a similar concept is being applied to cardiovascular disease patients. MenuGene is an automated menu planner that works to prevent cardiovascular disease . MenuGene creates daily and weekly menu plans that avoid carbohydrates, proteins, and fats to achieve its goal of reducing risk of cardiovascular disease. Flavor compatibility between ingredients is also taken into consideration to increase user satisfaction and make it a practical plan . Overall, advanced algorithms that consider your risk factors and lifestyle can help you manage and prevent chronic illnesses.
As with all new technologies, many mysteries surround the plausibility of AI use. AI relies on large amounts of data which raises a privacy concern on how companies acquire data needed for testing. AI collects a wide range of personal data which are susceptible to data breaches and corporation misuse . In addition, biased data can obscure the effectiveness of AI because “the data collected must be a true representation of the population for which its use is intended” .
Another major concern is the replacement of human jobs with AI. While the future is uncertain, “one of AI's biggest potential benefits is to help people stay healthy so they don't need a doctor, or at least not as often” . Currently, the goal of AI isn’t to replace humans, but to support humans in a job that requires meticulous attention to detail that can be overlooked. AI has certainly begun to enter important aspects of our lives, including what we eat. It still needs at minimum a few more years of research before it can live up to its full potential in the nutritional field. Until then, it will continue to make an impact on our lives bit by bit, even if we take no notice.
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