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A photo from Food Republic's Instagram feed of a pastrami sandwich at NYC's Katz's Delicatessen

Chances are that you have posted a photo to Instagram of a recent meal you’ve enjoyed at a restaurant or cooked at home. There are thousands of accounts devoted entirely to people’s daily eating routines (and, of course, ones consisting solely of food porn shots). But did you know that these casual food snaps are contributing to a gigantic database for scientists to comb through, research and make important observations about our dietary habits?

As reported by ScienceAlert, a team of U.S. researchers has studied 3 million geo-tagged food posts on Instagram and drawn some interesting conclusions. For instance, those living in communities with limited access to grocery stores — known as “food deserts” — could be including notably higher amounts of fat, cholesterol and sugars in their diets. That finding is based on all the photos of fatty foods such as pork, mayonnaise and cookies posted by the people in these communities. Those with better access to grocery stores are uploading more items like bagels, kale and hummus. Fruits and vegetables are the biggest difference, with only 33 percent of people in food deserts photographing these things, while that number jumps to 48 percent in locations that aren’t food deserts.

The research team also broke their findings down by region, leading to some eye-opening observations. These were the most common foods Instagrammed in each U.S. region:

Southeast: bacon, potatoes and grits (food deserts) vs. collard greens, oranges and peaches (non–food deserts).
Midwest: hamburgers, hot dogs and brisket vs. beans, spinach and kale.
West: pie, beef and sausage vs. quinoa, apple and crab.
Southwest: barbeque, pork and burritos vs. tomatoes, asparagus and bananas.

While the researchers acknowledged limitations in their data collection (inability to measure portion size, for one), the hope is that this system will help scientists study communities where people appear to not have access to healthy foods — and, in turn, raise awareness.

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