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Zap That Fat! Experimental Microwave Counts Calories

GE's new experimental prototype counts calories so you don't have to.


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Once upon a time, microwaves were designed with just one task in mind—to cook food.

Gaudily packaged frozen dinners were a staple for busy households everywhere, each plastic-covered burrito or slice of pizza ready at the push of a button. We gorged ourselves on strangely hued vegetables and unrecognizable meats, and we felt full, if not completely satisfied.

Those were the good old days, back when we could shuck the calorie counts from junky meals just by ditching the wrappers, when we could lie to ourselves about the nutrition content if we so desired.

Those were the days before GE developed a microwave that can count the calories in our food.

Okay, it’s not exactly a microwave oven as we typically think of it. Not yet, anyway. But GE's researchers have come up with a prototype that measures the calories in your food by passing low-energy microwaves through it.

Different fat and water contents interact with the microwaves in different ways, and those interactions provide the info that allows the device to determine the calorie content of your food.

While the prototype, much like the Vessyl smart cup, is currently only able to measure calories in blended food, the folks at GE are hard at work on a version that will be able to accurately scan a plate of more ordinary fare.

GE senior scientist Matt Webster explained to Technology Review that someday the gadget could be built into a microwave oven and other kitchen appliances.

A mock up of what GE's push-button calorie-counting device could look like.

GE's universal calorie counter could look something like this.

The idea here isn’t to shame the Hot Pocket–clutching masses who'd prefer not to know what they’re putting in their bodies. It's to create a quick, precise way for health-conscious eaters to log their calorie intake.

And compared to current self-tracking devices, like the Fitbit, it could be a revolutionary improvement. Webster describes the calorie-tracker as a “dream present” for his wife, whose dissatisfaction with the current offerings inspired his work.

If the GE research team succeeds in its efforts to create a device that can measure calories in heterogenous, solid food, microwave ovens could one day count calories as easily as they pop popcorn.

So the future looks full of healthy possibilities. Luckily for me, the present is full of pizza rolls. Mmm... pizza rolls.