Lifesum adds A.I. food recognition to its diet and health tracking app

When the character Jian Yang created his food-identification app, Not Hotdog, my first thought was, "wouldn't it be great if that were real, but actually worked to identify all food?" Well, it's real now, but not as a silly hotdog picker. Thanks to artificial intelligence and machine learning, food identification through image recognition is possible and Lifesum has added it as a premium feature in its diet and health tracking app.

Why do I need food identifying image recognition?

If you've ever tried tracking your food and calorie intake via any kind of health and diet app, you'll know that there are times when it's difficult to track down exactly what you're eating. Apps like Lifesum, MyFitnessPal, and others have a massive database of content to help you look up your dinner, but then you have to figure out which, of the available options, fits your meal.

First, you have to find the protein, blackened salmon let's say. Then, you have to search for the starch, maybe some mashed potatoes with garlic. Again, you have to search for the vegetable dish. Each one has to be searched for and added individually. It becomes so time consuming that you really don't even want to go through the process. Eventually, you might just give up and stop tracking.

Imagine taking a picture of your plate, which has prime rib, fingerling potatoes, and asparagus with hollandaise sauce, and the app identifies all three items, including the sauce that tops the vegetable. All you have to do is tap the name of the food and it's added to your meal tracking. Simple, fast, and something that you want to show off to your friends.

The image recognition tool that comes with the premium subscription to Lifesum does just that. Take a picture of your plate and it will identify everything on it so you can quickly add your meal. No fussing about, searching for each food item.

How is this even possible?

Thanks to advancements in image recognition and machine learning, our mobile devices are smarter than ever. Remember when Apple showed how your iPhone can identify a mountain, lake, and horse in a picture simply by using deep learning and artificial intelligence? Lifesum's food identifier works in a similar way.

When you snap a picture of your plate, the app uses its database of images to make the comparison. It then provides you with a list of items that are the most likely foods.

You won't see one option with everything on your plate. Instead, you'll see each identified item listed individually.

For example, I had chicken fettuccini Alfredo with a slice of garlic toast. After I took the picture, the list of possible foods included:

Fresh pasta, Alfredo sauce, grilled chicken, pesto, garlic bread, and a few others. If the items on my plate weren't on the list, I could have requested additional possible options.

Sounds awesome, but does it work?

I've been playing around with the food identification feature in the premium subscription of Lifesum for about a week and it hits more often than it misses.

It correctly identified my fried chicken sandwich with french fries and my chicken fettuccini Alfredo. I had a turkey burger one night that it though was a regular burger, but that's a hard one to get right.

It doesn't get everything right though. It's still a work in progress. I had a taco salad one night and it just didn't make the identification. It offered salad and nachos, but missed the mark.

That's OK, though. Lifesum has a massive database of food already in place. If the image recognition tool doesn't work, you can then switch over to the standard search engine you've been using all along.

Is it worth it?

Lifesum's subscription pricing runs anywhere from about $7.50 per month to as low as $3.75 per month if you subscribe for a year up front. It comes with a whole lot more than just the image recognition food identifier, too.

You can get recommendations for the type of weight loss program that's right for you, and then start that meal plan with breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks planned out ahead of time. Use the shopping list included with your subscription to make sure your house is stocked with all of the ingredients you need to make your meals.

So, yeah. Lifesum premium is worth it. Not only do you get a dedicated diet plan, complete with recipes and a list of items you need already prepared for you, but you can also track those foods that aren't as easily identifiable with a simple search or barcode scan.

What do you think?

Are you interested in this "Not Hotdog" feature? (I swear, it works a lot better than just knowing what isn't a hotdog.) Tell us your thoughts.

Lory Gil

Lory is a renaissance woman, writing news, reviews, and how-to guides for iMore. She also fancies herself a bit of a rock star in her town and spends too much time reading comic books.  If she's not typing away at her keyboard, you can probably find her at Disneyland or watching Star Wars (or both).