Lie Detector Determines If You’re Eating Your Veggies

By Amir Khan on June 4, 2012 10:50 AM EDT

Vegetable Lie Detector
A new lie detector uses a laser to determine if you are eating your veggies (Photo: Yale School of Public Health)

Lying about eating your vegetables just became much more difficult, thanks to a device created through a joint venture between researchers at the Yale School of Public Health and physicists at the University of Utah.

The device measures how much fruit and vegetables you eat with a blue laser. But although it sounds like something out of a sci-fi novel, the technique is actually quite simple.

"It really derived from an observation that people have known about for decades," Susan Mayne, head of chronic disease epidemiology at Yale University, told LiveScience. "When people have high-vegetable diets they develop a yellow skin coloration that is particularly noticeable in the palm of the hand because of the accumulation of carotenoids in the skin. And we thought, 'Can we use that as a new approach to measure carotenoids in the body noninvasively?'"

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Mayne and Werner Gellermann, a laser physicist at the University of Utah, met on a 16-hour flight and started talking. Gellermann explained that she was working on a way to use lasers to detect carotenoid levels in the eye, since high levels are thought to protect against macular degeneration.

After talking about a better way to measure biomarkers in people without taking a blood or skin sample, they came up with the idea for the device. By the time the plane landed, they had a proposal.

The device looks for evidence of carotenoid pigments in the skin, such a beta-carotene from carrots or lycopene from tomatoes. Researchers shine the device on people's hands and sensors pick up the vibrational energy of the carotenoid pigments, a technique called Raman spectroscopy, according to the Wall Street Journal.               

Raman spectroscopy works by analyzing light reflected off of an illuminated spot, in this case the palms, and looking at its vibrations. The vibrations in the skin can shed light on how much of your diet consists of fruits and vegetables, researchers said.

The device is non-invasive -- the researchers tested it on 60 preschoolers in one afternoon while they napped.

The device takes only 30 seconds to register your vegetable intake, and researchers claim that it is as effective as a blood test or skin sample. One issue with the device, however, is that right now it is unknown how long carotenoid pigments stay in the skin, so they are unsure if a measurement of the levels gives you a person's daily, weekly or monthly consumption. Researchers said they are undertaking studies to pin down the exact period the laser measures.

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