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2nd February 2016

When even the simple pleasure of eating becomes a problem

When Remy Bonnasse’s 7-year-old daughter Victoria was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes two years ago, the family suddenly faced a daunting task.

The very next morning, Victoria – a carefree, imaginative daydreamer — had to start calculating and recording her carbohydrate intake at every meal.

No more snacks on the run. Even the simple pleasure of eating cake at a birthday problem became a problem.

“We quickly realized that carb counting was starting to jeopardize her social life,” Remy Bonnasse said. “Eating was stressful.”

Victoria’s parents helped with the counting, of course, but they couldn’t be with her every minute of the day. So 7-year-old Victoria learned to read nutritional labels, estimate portions and manually record her carbs. It was an endless task –“stressful, inexact, and downright tedious for all of us.”

Anyone who remembers Julia Roberts in “Steel Magnolias,” knows the stakes are high. Diabetes hampers the body’s ability to turn sugar into energy. As sugar builds up in the blood, it can damage eyes, kidneys, nerves and the heart, and even cause coma and death. The disease is treated with injections of insulin, the sugar-processing chemical that the body ordinarily produces on its own.

Remy and his wife Astrid began to realize that the field of nutrition tracking had a lot of room for improvement. “After the diagnosis, we ended up talking about measuring food intake the way other families discuss sports or movies,” they wrote.

“We started to hash out ideas – not only for Victoria – but for the millions of other people who need to measure or balance their diet because they are overweight or diagnosed with chronic, nutrition-related diseases.”

Remy and Astrid knew what they wanted: a way to tell the composition of food and record it with no calculation involved.

At that point, Astrid discovered a company developing pocket-size spectrometers that read nutritional content. A spectrometer is a device that tells the type and amount of molecules in a given material by “reading” the light which is reflected by each molecule. Spectrometers aren’t new, but until recently they’ve been too big and expensive to be used outside laboratories.

That’s when Remy, a French entrepreneur, decided to use the small spectrometer and create an app that would connect with it so that his daughter could instantly see on the screen of her smartphone the amount of carbohydrates contained in the food she eats.

No more need for the user to tell their app what food they’re eating: the tiny spectrometer scans the food, and the resulting “fingerprint” is sent over the Internet for analysis. Within seconds the user’s smartphone displays calorie count and percentage of carbohydrates, fat, and protein. The app also includes personalized advice on what should be added or cut back to balance the meal.

The sensor works best with simple foods, where one ingredient accounts for 70 percent of the total.

The app that Victoria inspired just received a “best of innovations” award for apps and software at the 2016 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, one of the biggest technology and electronics trade fairs worldwide. A reward that encourages Astrid and Remy to continue their efforts so that their revolutionary technology becomes available to more and more people with diabetes facing the daunting task of counting carbohydrates every time they eat.