Archive for November, 2010

New Feature: Goals and Charts!

November 30th, 2010

We have now added Goals and Charts!


Based on your BMI and goals, PhotoCalorie will calculate the amount of calories you should consume each day to achieve your goal weight. You can enter your information by selecting: More, then choosing  Edit Profile. Your calorie goal will also show up in your journal, next to your running calorie count.


To track your progress, you can now select Charts at the top of the page.

Charts example on a desktop browser

  • At the top left, you can choose how many days to display (for Mac users, 2-finger scroll up and down your trackpad will zoom in or out as well).
  • In the middle of the page, above the graph, there is a drop down menu to choose which nutrient you would like to track.

In the example above, calories per day are displayed. The blue peaks are the calories eaten for each day, and the red line is your daily caloric goal. Hovering over any point will display the calories eaten for that day, as well as your caloric-goal in the top right portion of the chart.

Charts example on iPhone

On the iPhone, you can click on any point to view the calories for that day.


Updates, iPhone app

Senate Vote Tonight on Food Safety Bill For the Ages

November 29th, 2010

The senate will vote on the Food Safety and Modernization Act tonight, in the hopes of finally regulating the safety of our foods. I wrote earlier about the farmers in Iowa who’s eggs caused the recent salmonella outbreak. It seems as if a bill is much needed and well overdue.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that approximately 76 million new cases of food-related illness – resulting in 5,000 deaths and 325,000 hospitalizations – occur in the United States each year. According to a study done by an FDA economist, all these illnesses cost the US $152 billion annually.

Here is a summary of the bill:

S. 510: FDA Food Safety Modernization Act

Summary: This legislation would expand the powers of the Food and Drug Administration and related agencies to fortify the food safety framework. Particular new abilities include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Conduct more frequent inspections, including required annual inspections of high-risk facilities
  • Set forth requirements for mandatory testing
  • Order mandatory recalls after allowing responsible parties the opportunity to cease distribution voluntarily
  • Shut down facilities in consistent violation of safety regulations
  • Access records to determine the source of an outbreak
  • Produce more comprehensive tracking and data collection methods
  • Establish standards and regulations, and issue guidance documents to ensure firms are aware of these standards
  • Help state, local and tribal governments stay prepared to handle agriculture and food emergencies
  • Ensure that imported products meet the same standards imposed upon domestically produced food

Seems like a no-brainer. However, Republican Tom Coburn of Oklahoma doesn’t think so. Here are some of his opposing points , quoted from his website:

  • “In 1996, for every 100,000 people in this country, we had 51.2 cases of foodborne illness–the best in the world, by far. Nobody comes close to us in terms of the safety of our food . But, in 2009, we only had 34.8 cases” (Estimates much different from the numbers cited by the CDC above)
  • “Do my colleagues realize right now when we buy a pizza at the grocery store, if you buy a cheese pizza it comes through the FDA, but if you buy a pepperoni pizza, it gets approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture? How many people in America think that makes sense?”

Coburn also objects to the bill due to the cost of $1.5 billion over the 2011-2015 period. However, if passing this bill even decreases the costs associated with food-borne illnesses by 0.25% each year, it will pay for the bill. Not to mention all the potential lives saved and hospital visits eliminated.

As Coburn explains, this bill does not eliminate the redundancy involved in the current state of food safety regulation. In 2003, FDA and USDA activities included overlapping and duplicative inspections of 1,451 domestic food-processing facilities that produce foods regulated by both agencies. He makes a great point, and this needs to be addressed. However,  that does not mean this bill is not fundamental. You can read more of Coburn’s criticisms here.

Stay tuned for the results. Fingers crossed.

What do you think about these objections to the bill?

Food Safety

New Feature: Journal Sharing!

November 26th, 2010

We are announcing our newest feature: the ability to share your journal with anyone you’d like! Whether it is your dietitian, your doctor, or your friends, with one click you can now send anyone a link to your journal.

Under the ‘more’ tab, choose ‘Edit Profile’ and then click the checkbox for ‘Allow journal sharing.’ Then save your profile, and a link will appear. This is a link to a read-only version of your journal which you can send to anyone you’d like.

They can see the journal, scroll through the photos, and select each food to see the nutrition facts. However, they cannot edit it.

We believe this will revolutionize the way dieters communicate with their doctors and dietitians.

Example of a shared journal

Let the sharing begin!


New Feature: Photo Slide Show of your Culinary Creations!

November 23rd, 2010

A recent article in the New York Times profiled the growing popularity of photographing your food. “Keeping a photographic food diary is a growing phenomenon with everything from truffle-stuffed suckling pig to humble bowls of Cheerios being captured and offered for public consumption,” the article explains.

Because of this, we wanted to create a way for users to easily scroll through magnified photos of their culinary creations. By clicking on one of your images, you can scroll through them as you would your facebook pictures.

Screen shot of photo slide show on desktop browser

The photos can also offer some added motivation. “It’s definitely part of my neuroticism about trying to keep thin,” says Javier Garcia, the neuroscientist profiled in the NYTimes article. “It keeps you accountable because you don’t want to have to see that you ate an entire jar of peanut butter.” He began photographing his foods after he lost 80 pounds.

Screen shot of photo slide show on iPhone app

We believe it is very important for people to cook more of their foods and eat less pre-packaged “food like substances” as Michael Pollan likes to say. Having the ability to scroll through your photos will allow you to display your cooking prowess, as well as improve your ability to estimate serving sizes using PhotoCalorie.

Once you have snapped a photo of your food, now comes the hard part: telling us what you ate and how much of it you ate. Much research has shown that people have terrible trouble estimating their portion sizes. So because of this, we give examples of food sizes in the palm of your hand to help you estimate:

The foods in our database are all standardized to one serving size specific to the food type. If you search for a food and don’t specify serving size, it will return the default serving sizes (most of which shown above. Click here to learn more about our serving sizes)

In the example above, my chicken breast seems approximately twice as large as the example, meaning I would type: “Grilled chicken breast *2,” which means 6 oz of chicken breast. The broccoli and rice each seem to be about the same size as the photos, or 1 cup each. Therefore the search query for this meal would be “Grilled chicken breast*2, rice, broccoli.”


One search returns the nutrition for the 3 foods combined. No drop down menus to scroll through or strange units to convert.

We hope you enjoy our progress! In our next blog post, I will describe our other recently developed feature: sharing your journal with others.

Updates, iPhone app

From Coke Board of Directors to NYC School Chancellor

November 20th, 2010

In an effort to find a new Chancellor for the New York City public schools has turned to the very company they have been fighting to eliminate soda from their schools: Coca-Cola. Mayor Bloomberg’s choice is Cathleen P. Black, one of the 14 people who sat on Coke’s board of directors.

It is quite strange that Mayor Bloomberg, the person that wants to bar the city’s 1.7 million food stamp recipients from purchasing soda and other sugary sodas with state funds, is hiring a former Coke employee to fix NYC schools. It is difficult to argue with him, considering his impressive health policy record, which includes: banning smoking and trans fats, requiring calories to be posted, and recently launching a campaign against salt.

According to a New York Times article, in 2003, California and New York banned soda sales in elementary and middle schools. In 2006, Connecticut tried to do the same, but this time Coke fought back. Coke lobbyists warned school districts that if the legislation passed, Coke would stop giving money for after-school programs, which it had done in exchange for the right to put vending machines on campus. This happened while Ms. Black was on the board of directors.

Hopefully her past will not influence her future policy. But I’m skeptical.


Mcdonald’s, Pepsi and KFC to write UK health policy (no, seriously)

November 16th, 2010


In the UK, the department of health is bringing in the top heath officials in the country to help write the health policy regarding obesity and other diet related diseases: McDonald’s, PepsiCo, Kellogg’s, Unilever, Mars and Diageo. No, it’s not April Fools day or opposite day. This is for real. Talk about the fox guarding the hen house.

In an article published in the guardian, the government defended this decision saying they want to “improve public health through voluntary agreements with business and other partners, rather than through regulation or top-down lectures because it believed this approach would be far more effective and ambitious than previous efforts.”

Marion Nestle, a professor of nutrition and food policy at NYU, also wrote about this decision. She highlighted some of the laughable issues:

  • The food deal’s sub-group on calories is chaired by PepsiCo
  • The physical activity group is chaired by the Fitness Industry Association, which is the lobby group for private gyms and personal trainers.

Talk about a conflict of interest. Jeanette Longfield, head of the food campaign group Sustain, said this is like “putting the tobacco industry in charge of smoke-free spaces.”

Could something like this ever happen in the U.S.? Unfortunately yes. It’s called the Dietary Guidelines.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is in the awkward position of marketing agriculture products like meat, dairy, and grains, while at the same time telling us what we should or should not eat via their dietary guidelines and food pyramid. However, they can’t just tell us to eat less sugar, hamburgers, french fries, fried chicken and whole milk. The meat, dairy, and grain industries give the USDA tons of money, giving them the power to lobby against that. This is why they use vague statements and rarely say “eat less” of a particular food, but rather eat less of a nutrient. For example, in the 2010 Dietary Guidelines:

  • “Significantly reduce intake of foods containing added sugars and solid fats because these dietary components contribute excess calories and few, if any, nutrients.”

What are solid fats!? What they mean to say is, foods that contain fats that are solid at room temperature, also known as saturated fats. Instead of saying eat less sausage, beef and bacon, they stick to a non-food-specific nutrients to keep the industries happy and the public confused.

Another article by Marion Nestle describes this in more detail.

Fortunately we haven’t gotten to the point in America yet where McDonald’s writes our dietary guidelines. I can see it now:

2015 Dietary McGuidelines:

  • Significantly reduce intake of whoppers, fried chicken, salads and fruits.
  • For improved cardiovascular health, spend at least 15-30 minutes climbing in jungle gyms and/or  jumping into ball pits each day a local McDonald’s play place
  • M&M McFlurries provide a tasty, refreshing way to stay hydrated
  • Double quarter pounder’s with cheese are the base of our new, McFood Pyramid!


Happy Meals Ban Vetoed by San Francisco Mayor

November 14th, 2010

In a previous post I mentioned that San Francisco is going to ban toys from happy meals unless they meet specific nutritional requirements. The Mayor of San Francisco however, doesn’t think that is such a good idea. He vetoed the ban, saying “parents, not politicians, should decide what their children eat.”

This veto makes Ronald McDonald jump for joy! If it were to remain, Mcdonald’s would have to make sure their happy meals met strict nutritional guidelines in order to be accompanied by a toy. Below is a screen shot of the “Healthy Foods Incentive Ordinance,” as it is called:

It would have been quite difficult for McDonald’s to meet these standards without totally revamping their happy meals.

Although McDonald’s seems to get a lot of blame for contributing to obesity, they have made great strides to improve their nutrition labeling. All their foods now come with the full nutrition facts printed directly on the packaging, something the majority of other fast food joints cannot boast. They also offer bottled water, apple slices, or milk as an alternative to fries and coke. Pretty good for a place with such a bad rep.

You can read more about this story here.

Food Marketing, Policy

Founder of Jeff Taylor on Social Networking

November 12th, 2010

Founder of Jeff Taylor was invited to this year’s Food and Nutrition Conference and Expo to give a talk called: “Social Networking: Taking Communications to the Next Level.” An incredibly dynamic, energetic and hilarious presentation about the current state of social media and how it is transforming the way we live and do business.

Below are some notes and pictures I took during the presentation:

The definition of an Entrepreneur: “When you have an idea, and everyone around you thinks you are crazy, and you still act on it, you are an entrepreneur.”

“If you are nervous, you are in danger of learning something.”

Jeff began speaking about the history of, and how is began. When he started, there were only 200 other websites in the entire world! Between 1996-2000, 50 million websites were created.

In December 1993, released their first superbowl commercial, which turned out to be the 4th worst rated commercial that year. Why was that?!

- After some thinking and asking for feedback, they realized it confused every guy in the country. It is tough for a guy to be ironic, when they are drinking beer and eating pizza.

- They lived through this criticism, and what evolved from it was the courage to start his new company,, a social networking site for babyboomers.

-He is also a DJ for XM radio, DJ Jeffr Tell

-To celebrate 1 year at his new company, he wanted to do something exciting. So he decided everyone at the company is going to jump into the ocean together holding hands!

-People asked questions like “Well, what am I going to wear?”; “Do we jump on 3, or do we say 3 and then jump?!”

-Jeff said the meeting the following day was “incredible.”


-376,000 people join each day

-If facebook were a country, it would be the 4th largest in the world

Then he asked everyone to take their shoes off

-Think of an idea with very few rules, like take your shoe off an hold it in the air. Why would people do this?

-Some answers from the crowd: “It’s fun”; “Everyone else was doing it”; “My shoe was double knotted. I couldn’t get it off.”

-This activity was a metaphor for creating new ideas and taking risks. Some people may do it right away, and others may follow in their footsteps “because everyone else was doing it”

-Social media now being adopting by hospitals – some hospitals tweet their waiting room times

-Jeff left us with one final story. He always keeps a notebook next to his bed to try to write down and remember his dreams. One night, we awoke around 3am and jotted something down on his pad. Later that morning, he saw what he had written earlier, and thought it was a great idea; a “monster” idea. So he took it to the local coffee shop, and drafted a plan. Five hours later, he had the blue-print for what would become


Florida to Ban Chocolate Milk from Schools

November 9th, 2010

The Florida board of educators will most likely ban chocolate milk and other sugary drinks from cafeterias in Florida schools. The final decision comes in December. This is the second example of policy intervention on kid’s nutrition in the past months. Recently, San Francisco banned happy meals from containing toys if they did not meet certain nutritional standards (read more).

Of course, the National Dairy Council is not too happy with this, saying in a new campaign ”Adding chocolate to milk doesn’t take away its nine essential nutrients.” They then listed 5 reasons why chocolate milk should not be banned:

1. Kids love the taste. Removing it will cause kids to drink less milk (and the dairy council will make less money)

2. Contains 9 essential nutrients and is a healthy alternative to other soft drinks

3. Helps kids achieve 3 servings of milk a day. Without chocolate milk they would drink less (and the dairy council will make less money)

4. Better diet: Kids who drink flavored milk meet more of their nutrient needs, do not consume more added sugar, fat or calories and are not heavier than non-milk drinkers

5. Chocolate milk is the top choice in schools, and “kids drink less milk if it’s taken away” (and the dairy council will make less money)

Their campaign promotes chocolate milk as beneficial and healthy. A search on for a cup of chocolate milk, or coke, could be revealing:

The National Dairy Council, who’s job is to promote milk understandably does not want this ban to happen. However, chocolate milk has double the sugar of regular milk, and a few less grams of sugar than coke.  Maybe the decision to include chocolate milk in the sugary drink ban has some merit.

For more on this story, click here.

Nutrition and Weight Loss, Policy

The Great Fat Debate – Is there validity in the Dietary Guidelines

November 8th, 2010

Today was the 3rd day of the Food and Nutrition Conference and Expo. Today’s showcase was a debate over the age old dietary guidelines. Specifically adressed was the idea that fat makes you fat and causes heart disease. The opinions varied from eliminating fat content from food packages, encouraging an even stricter limitation on saturated fats, or to push an increase in polyunsaturated fats and nothing else.

Each speaker is listed in order they spoke, as well as their main points:

Dr. Walter Willet -Chair, Department of Nutrition, Fredrick John Stare Professor of Epidemiology and Nutrition. Has conducted some of the largest studies ever on dietary fat, heart disease, and breast cancer.

-The idea that fats are bad first started with the Famous Ancel Keys, ecologic study which found a correlation between saturated fat and heart disease in 7 countries. However these countries differed in many other ways, so any relation between heart disease and saturated fat cannot be determined from this study.

-There was also a large association with wealth and heart disease.

-These ideas inspired the food pyramid to place fats at the very top, advising the population to “eat sparingly,” and promoting carbohydrate intake by placing them at the base of the food pyramid

-In all his studies, both clinical trials and prospective epidemiologic studies, he found “no relation what so ever” with total fat in the diet and breast cancer or heart disease

-He believes fat content should be removed from food packaging, since it confuses the consumer and has been consistently proven to be neutral.

You can read more about Willet’s research and ideas here.

Dr. Lewis KullerDistinguished University Professor of Public Health, Pittsburgh University

-Dr. Kuller believes the main problem with our obesity epidemic is changing eating behavior

-He cited much seminal research from the past, including the Ancel Keys ecologic data and animal models for evidence of the link between high LDL and

-Believes if Americans ate a diet consisting of 7% of calories from saturated fat, we would reduce the risk of heart disease, via its potential effect on LDL cholesterol

Dr. Dariush MozaffarianAssistant Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School; Associate Physician Brigham and Women’s Hospital

-Started by stating that all the evidence Dr. Kuller presented were ecologic studies, animal models, and biomarker relationships

-It is very dangerous to say LDL causes heart disease. You cannot determine causation, since it is just a correlation

-There is “no evidence” that saturated fat increases heart disease. He cited many recent meta-analyses of prospective studies and clinical trials, showing the relationship is usually null.

-The women’s health initiative, one of the largest clinical trials to test this idea, found no difference between the low fat group and the control group, even though the experimental group also had counseling.

-50% of our diets are refined carbohydrates and starches

-The average carb consumed in America is worse than saturated fat

-He also believes most nutrition on food packages should be removed

-All that should be recommended is an increase in polyunsaturated fats, since they consistently show a benefit

Dr. Alice Lichtenstein - Senior Scientist and Director, Cardiovascular Nutrition Lab, Tufts University

-Cited studies in the past which found a replacement of saturated fats with unsaturated fats decreased incidence of heart disease.

-Agrees that total fat is not detrimental

-Believes decreasing saturated fats is important for heart health

It seems that the consensus in 3 of the 4 speakers seemed to be that total fat has no effect on heart disease. Everyone seemed to agree that processed carbohydrates are bad. Very interesting research findings and ideas, considering the general acceptance of the low-fat dogma for the past 30 years. It remains to be seen if this research will have any effect on public policy and dietary recommendations.

Conference, Nutrition and Weight Loss