AI, healthy eating and you: What to know before consulting a diet app

PITTSBURGH — Over the last year, AI has continued to move into key parts of our lives, including helping people navigate dieting and making healthy eating plans.

But are these apps safe, and what do you need to know before logging on?

Channel 11′s Katherine Amenta took those questions to the experts at Pitt.

“You could enter in all the information, all your dietary concerns and preferences, and ask for a meal plan, but you have to check it,” said Caroline Passerrello, a registered dietician nutritionist at Pitt.

Trust but verify is a growing rule of thumb for apps that offer AI-eating solutions.

From analyzing portion control just by looking at a picture of your meal to developing recipes from what you have in your fridge, Passerello says AI can be more accurate than a human.

“The image recognition is able to better understand portion sizes, what’s in the food,” she said.

But, like anything else, there are limitations that could have serious consequences. For example, how much does AI know about dietary limitations for conditions like colitis or celiac disease? Passerrello pointed to a recent study.

“It asks for meal plans for someone who is on dialysis and it spit back foods that we would not recommend for someone going through dialysis,” she said.

She says it’s an important reminder that AI is only as smart as the information it’s taught — and there’s no replacing the bedside manner of human interaction.

“You can ask open-ended questions to the chat bot, but it should be the other way around! we as dietitians should be asking the open-ended questions,” she said.

Another concern Passerrello has is how often AI is taught new methods and guidelines because without it, it could be giving outdated advice. She advises checking with a medical professional to see if there’s an app they recommend.

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