New Device Shoots Lasers at Your Food to Reveal Calories

Inventor claims a new device can find allergens and count calories.

ByABC News
January 17, 2014, 10:25 AM

Jan. 17, 2014— -- Have you ever worried that a gluten-free treat may still be hiding a smidgen of wheat? You're not alone.

More than 1,700 people have donated money to an online fundraiser to distribute a new device called a TellSpec, which its creator claims can deduce exactly what is in your food, from gluten to mercury, by using a laser.

The TellSpec, a kind of spectrometer, “reads” food by sending a beam of light into your meal and examining the photons emitted from the food molecules, according to its inventor. The scanner sorts the photons by wavelength and counts them to decipher the chemical compounds in the food. The results are then run through a complicated algorithm that sends the relevant information to your phone.

According to the Canada-based TellSpec company, the device will reveal the chemical make-up and potential allergens in your food, in addition to an estimated calorie count.

Hidden gluten in chocolates or transfat in tortilla chips would be revealed with a simple push of a button, the company says.

The device is currently only in a prototype form and its effectiveness hasn’t been independently verified, but plenty of people are already interested in getting their hands on one. The company has raised $380,000 on the Indiegogo fundraising website from interested users, far surpassing their initial goal of $100,000.

People who donated more than $150 will receive the device as soon as it's manufactured later this year.

The TellSpec device sounds like science fiction, but spectrometers has been used for decades to decipher the chemical make-up of objects or even far away alien planets. A spectrometer is currently being used to search for minerals on the surface of Mars as part of a NASA mission.

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Isabel Hoffman, TellSpec’s CEO, said she was inspired to develop the device after her daughter was diagnosed with severe allergies to gluten, mold and certain food dyes.

“My daughter’s health and my desire to help others like her provided the motivation to make TellSpec,” Hoffman said on the company’s fundraising page. “My goal now is to help people like my daughter to lead a normal life with the knowledge to choose clean healthy food.”

According to a company spokesman, the company expects to start manufacturing the device in the next three to four months after it is independently evaluated for accuracy and customer satisfaction.

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Sara Bleich, associate professor of Health Policy and Management at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said as long as the device works it could help people be more aware of their calorie intake and help them cut down on hidden calories.

“Among those who do report seeing the calorie information, there is pretty compelling evidence that is leads them to make a lower calorie choice,” said Bleich. “It would be great if it could be created as an app so people would always have it with them on their phone. Convenience is very important when you are trying to encourage behavior change."