How AI Can Help Decide What Food You Can Eat

Keto-friendly or gluten-free?

Key Takeaways

  • Artificial intelligence technology such as Honeycomb.ai can help people with dietary needs and restrictions figure out what to eat at restaurants. 
  • The AI dissects a restaurant’s menu and identifies every ingredient in a dish so people can decide what entrees they can and can’t eat. 
  • As more people have dietary restrictions due to medical conditions or lifestyle choices, AI tech like this is super beneficial.
Four friends looking at menus in a restaurant.
Raphye Alexius / Getty Images

For people with dietary restrictions or food allergens, eating out and dissecting a restaurant's menu can be challenging. Experts in the food industry believe that artificial intelligence (AI) can help solve the problem so many are dealing with. 

From vegetarian to vegan, keto to gluten-free, plant-based, and more, 43% of Americans follow a specific diet or eating pattern, according to a survey from the International Food Information Council. By using AI to read menus and identify exact ingredients in every offering, people with these restrictions can much more easily find something to eat. 

"The big chains can label all of their dietary regulations, but for the average mom and pop restaurant, how are they going to go and label all this?" Tamir Barzilai, CEO of Honeycomb.ai, told Lifewire in a phone interview.

"AI is the biggest benefit when people with dietary needs and restrictions go to a restaurant."

Behind the AI 

We already know AI can help change the way you eat, but Honeycomb.ai is using AI to help predict what foods you can eat at restaurants based on whatever dietary needs or restrictions you have. 

Barzilai, himself, was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis and was forced to follow a specific diet to minimize his symptoms, so creating this kind of AI algorithm was a selfish endeavor at first. But he soon realized many face the same problems when trying to dine out. 

"A lot of medical conditions come with a prescribed diet, and those diseases and conditions are on the rise...which is why personalized nutrition as a whole is trending." 

"I found it odd that a lot of people are interested in a restaurant’s online menu, but menus are still lacking in any technological complexity," he said. 

Barzilai created Honeycomb.ai four years ago to do the heavy lifting of dissecting any restaurants’ menu. 

"We’ve trained the model over the last four years to understand a menu item as a culinary chef would—we call it the executive chef sometimes," Barzilai said.

"It can figure out what is in a dish and if there is gluten or wheat in it, if the noodles are egg-based, etc."

Barzilai said that the technology can shorten the process of making a menu more transparent from 3-4 hours to 30-40 minutes.

He said the AI continuously learns and gets better the more people use it through Honeycomb.ai's free iOS app (and, in the coming months, an Android app, too). 

Today’s Dietary Needs

Honeycomb.ai supports vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free, ketogenic, paleo, dairy-free, kosher, halal, and low-FODMAP diets, along with the 29 most common allergens and ingredients. You can filter restaurants on Honeycomb’s app based on whichever diet you are on. 

Still, Barzilai said those with more severe food allergies must rely on talking to a restaurant directly rather than solely relying on AI, since the technology wouldn't know if a restaurant uses a specific gluten-free fryer or handles peanuts, for instance. 

Person taking a picture of their meal on a smartphone.
SolStock / Getty Images

"Someone with a severe allergy, surely they can’t rely on an AI prediction no matter how good it is," he said. "We do have a framework to make restaurants define and standardize their food preparations." 

AI tech like Honeycomb.ai's is beneficial to a growing population of people. Like Barzilai, many people have dietary needs stemming from medical conditions that force them to go on specific diets or limit certain types of foods. 

"A lot of medical conditions come with a prescribed diet, and those diseases and conditions are on the rise," he said. "We are seeing an unfortunate trend, which is why personalized nutrition as a whole is trending." 

Then, of course, there are people simply looking to lose weight and try out a keto diet, or those who change their entire lifestyle for environmental reasons. Whatever your reason(s) for your dietary needs and restrictions, Barzilai believes AI is ultimately the future in helping decide what foods you can eat. 

"Everyone who has these issues just wants the problem to be solved," he said.

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