Can AI Give You Nutrition Advice?

ChatGPT, an artificial intelligence (AI) tool that generates human-sounding language automatically, is the fastest-growing electronic tool in history, with over 100 million users. It can write bad poetry, create good 5th grade essays, and answer search questions as long as you don’t mind getting false answers. Thousands of people find that it’s a useful tool, though, and a registered dietician told us that it does a good job of planning healthy menus.

How to ask AI tools for a menu

We tried out ChatGPT as well as Google Bard. Because the quality of your results with generative AI tools depends on how you ask your questions, we are ready to share our results with you. 

The first requirement is to give plenty of details. You can just ask, “Can you make a healthy meal plan?” and get a plan, but giving more detail will get you better results. 

We asked for a healthy menu for someone with diabetes, kidney disease, and osteoporosis. Here is the plan from ChatGPT:

  • Breakfast:
    • 1/2 cup cooked oatmeal with 1/4 cup fresh berries
    • 1 boiled egg
    • 1 slice whole grain toast
    • 1 cup unsweetened almond milk
  • Snack:
    • 1 medium apple
    • 1 tbsp almond butter
  • Lunch:
    • 2 oz grilled chicken breast
    • 1 cup steamed broccoli
    • 1/2 cup brown rice
    • 1 small salad with mixed greens and a tablespoon of olive oil vinaigrette
  • Snack:
    • 1 small handful of unsalted mixed nuts
    • 1 small pear
  • Dinner:
    • 3 oz baked salmon
    • 1 cup roasted Brussels sprouts
    • 1/2 cup quinoa
    • 1 small salad with mixed greens and a tablespoon of olive oil vinaigrette
  • Snack:
    • 1 small serving of plain Greek yogurt with 1/4 cup fresh berries

Bard organized the answer differently, but gave a similar plan:

  • Breakfast
    • Oatmeal with berries and nuts
    • Yogurt with fruit and granola
    • Whole-wheat toast with peanut butter and banana
    • Egg white omelet with vegetables
  • Lunch
    • Salad with grilled chicken or fish
    • Soup and salad
    • Sandwich on whole-wheat bread with lean protein, vegetables, and low-fat cheese
    • Veggie burger on a whole-wheat bun
  • Dinner
    • Grilled salmon with roasted vegetables
    • Chicken stir-fry with brown rice
    • Lentil soup with whole-wheat bread
    • Vegetarian chili with cornbread
  • Snacks
    • Fruits and vegetables
    • Yogurt
    • Nuts
    • Trail mix 

We also asked for a healthy meal plan for a vegetarian who eats eggs and dairy but not gelatin, and who likes spicy foods. There was overlap with the previous plans, but the details were different. For example, Bard suggested vegetarian chili with cornbread for our first example, and ChatGPT gave this dinner idea for our second person:

  • Dinner:
    • 1 serving of vegetarian chili made with kidney beans, diced tomatoes, bell peppers, onions, and spices (such as chili powder, cumin, and smoked paprika)
    • 1 small side salad with mixed greens, cherry tomatoes, and balsamic vinaigrette

The AI tools were also happy to produce menus for our two example people if they were eating together. Information about what foods you like, how many meals you want to eat each day, and any limitations in your cooking skills, time, or tools will make your meal plan even more perfect for you. 

Follow up

Both the AI tools we tested also gave us shopping lists for a week of groceries for our example people. Since AI chat tools remember the earlier questions you’ve asked, you don’t have t repeat your questions. You can respond with, “Can you expand that into a two-week menu plan with a shopping list?” and the tools will do that for you. 

You can also say, “I don’t like Brussels sprouts” and they will replace that item with something different. Any additional input you offer will be used to fine-tune the recommendations. 

Chat GPT sorted the grocery list into produce, protein, grains, dairy, and “other” without being asked. Bard did the same, but separated fruits and vegetables. You can ask for other arrangements if you prefer.

Bring in human intelligence

AI chat tools don’t think or search for information. They put down the word that is statistically likely to come next, based on their training. Since they are trained on huge amounts of data, they do a very good job of this. 

But sometimes they say things that are completely false. Their makers call this “hallucinating.” It is a known problem, and the people working on AI generative tools are trying to fix it. However, until they do, you should double check. Share your meal plan with your family doctor and read the labels of the foods you buy when you’re shopping.

These steps will help you make best use of the AI tools. 

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