You may have heard the expression from Hamlet, “To thine own self be true.” Wonder what this phrase has to do with food and nutrition apps? Plenty! Accountability – being responsible to yourself for your actions – may help you make a lasting transition to healthier eating habits.
Fast forward from Shakespeare to the present day. We’ve got hundreds of food and nutrition apps and trackers at our fingertips. An app or two may make the task of tracking what, when, and how much you eat a wee bit easier. Shelby Kinnaird, who shared her weight and type 2 management journey on TheDX.com, lists tracking food intake with a couple of apps among her top tips, saying ““If I’m actively trying to lose weight …the only thing that works for me is to keep track.” Toby Smithson, RD, CDE, person living with type 1 diabetes, and founder of DiabetesEveryDay.com, adds: “Tracking on an app wherever, whenever, enables constant mindfulness about your eating habits and food choices.” An added plus is that, over time, you’ll have data in hand to review and analyze with your healthcare provider.
Choosing an app
When picking an app, my advice is to first zero in on your goal. Want to focus on counting calories and fat grams to lose weight, learn about the healthiness (or not-so) of supermarket foods, or increase the accuracy of restaurant food carbohydrate counts?
Let your goals dictate your app choices. Smithson uses an app with a large selection of restaurant foods to help her assess the carbohydrate, fat, and sodium counts of her menu choices. “With the data at my fingertips, I’m less overwhelmed,” says Smithson.
Once you’re accustomed to using a few apps that meet your needs, I suggest you watch for updated versions and new features. Do a search on occasion for new ones with features to further help you take care of your diabetes.
One final tip: A huge food database doesn’t necessarily make the app best for you; in fact, it may actually slow down your tracking. In my experience, we generally eat the same foods and meals repeatedly, and don’t always need such a huge amount of data. A helpful feature, such as one in MyFitnessPal1, lets you store your common meals, favorite foods, and recipes.
Below I’ve included a taste of my favorite food and nutrition apps in alphabetical order:
Description: CalorieKing is a well-known, reliable food and nutrient database which has been accessible online and in books for years. The free mobile app, CalorieKing Food Search, offers a large food database, which includes basic, packaged, and restaurant foods with calorie and major nutrient data. Users can compare the calories, carbohydrate, and fat between foods. Create-a-Meal (for iPad® only) is a free interactive tool with nutrition information for fast-food restaurants.
Compatibility: iPhone®, iPad, iPod touch®, also available via computer without an app
Foods in database: 70,000, including foods from 260 fast food and restaurant chains
Can you add new foods? Yes
Price: CalorieKing Food Search app is free. CalorieKing offers a fee-based membership service that includes additional features.
Name: ChooseMyPlate SuperTracker, United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)
Description: The SuperTracker dovetails with the USDA’s Choose My Plate healthy eating initiative. With SuperTracker, you can create a profile, set a calorie goal, and register your account for ongoing use. The program is designed to help you plan, analyze, and track what you eat. The food database, which contains fewer foods than many commercial apps (see note below), contains the nutrition information for mainly basic and packaged foods. Recent enhancements allow users to set your top five healthy eating goals, assess your progress to meet daily food group targets, and monitor intake of empty calories, saturated fat, oils, and sodium.
Compatibility: Available via computer without an app, iPad; not yet available as smartphone app
Foods in database: 8,000 from the USDA’s Food and Nutrient Database
Can you add new foods? No, but you can suggest items to add
Name: EveryoneEat!™ (powered by FoodCare™, formerly FoodCalc)
Description: This app focuses solely on helping people with a variety of common chronic health conditions, including diabetes, choose healthier restaurant meals that may be appropriate for their nutrition goals. You start by completing a health profile, which includes information about your health condition(s). The app, which applies a trademarked Nutrition Positioning System, then serves up food choices from restaurants included in the EveryoneEat! Database. It’s like using a GPS to find a healthy restaurant! The nutrition guidelines have been developed in conjunction with health associations and expert organizations. Search by restaurant or cuisine.
Restaurant foods in database: Foods from over 180,000 restaurant locations
Compatibility: iPhone, Android™
Can you add new foods? No, you can nominate a restaurant or food item not currently in the database, and it may be added over time.
Description: Fooducate’s goal is to educate people about the foods they choose in the supermarket. There are now two versions, one for the general public and one for people living with diabetes. The app allows you to scan a food’s bar code (UPC) and get the nutrition information, along with a Fooducate grade (e.g., A, B, C, D) based on the personal profile you entered when you registered. The nutrition grade is based on algorithms (different for the two versions) developed by nutrition experts to guide you to healthier choices. Alternatives are also provided for less nutritious food choices. Both versions allow you to browse the ever-growing food database and submit new products for a grade. Fooducate also has an app for people with food allergies and gluten intolerance.
Compatibility: iPhone, iPod touch, iPad
Foods/products in database: 200,000
Can you add new foods? Yes
Price: General version: Free. Diabetes Nutrition by Fooducate: $3.99
Name: GoMeals® powered by Calorie King4
Description:GoMeals is designed specifically for people living with diabetes. The food tracker provides a large food database including basic, packaged, and restaurant foods with information on calories and major nutrients. GoMeals allows users to also track activity and glucose levels. GoMeals has a cloud sync feature that offers the benefit of backing up your history, thereby enabling use of GoMeals across various devices or online.
Compatibility: iPhone, iPod touch, iPad, Android, also available via computer without an app
Foods in database: 40,000 including 20,000 restaurant menu items
Can you add new foods? Yes
Name: MyFitnessPal Calorie Counter & Diet Tracker
Description: Often among the top food/nutrition trackers reviewed, this app focuses squarely on weight loss and helping people track progress quickly and easily. The app contains a large food database, which includes basic, packaged, and restaurant foods, along with major nutrients. The system remembers what you eat and track, which can be a helpful feature. You can add foods not listed using the food’s bar code (if available), as well as favorite recipes. This app fully syncs and backs up with the website, thereby enabling access via your smartphone or computer.
Compatibility: iPhone, iPad, Android, BlackBerry® smartphone, also available via computer without an app
Foods in database: Over 2 million
Can you add new foods? Yes
Feeling overwhelmed by the onslaught of food and nutrition apps? I suggest you take a deep breath, choose one app to get started, and don’t feel compelled to use every function right away. Use the features that best fit your current needs and goals. Remember the goal of putting an app into action is to help more easily and effectively manage your diabetes.
Hope Warshaw, MMSc, RD, CDE*, is the author of several best-selling books published by the American Diabetes Association, including Diabetes Meal Planning Made Easy and Guide to Healthy Restaurant Eating. She’s a frequent contributor to Diabetic Living magazine and paid consultant to Fooducate. Warshaw is a paid contributor for The DX. All opinions contained in this article reflect those of the contributor, and not of Sanofi US, its employees, agencies, or affiliates.
*“Certified Diabetes Educator” and “CDE” are certification marks owned and registered by the National Certification Board for Diabetes Educators (NCBDE). NCBDE is not affiliated in any way with Sanofi US. NCBDE does not sponsor or endorse any diabetes-related products or services.
1MyFitnessPal is a registered trademarks of MyFitnessPal, LLC.
2CalorieKing is a registered trademark of CalorieKing Wellness Solutions, Inc.
3Diabetes Nutrition by Fooducate was created through a partnership with Sanofi US.
4GoMeals® is a Sanofi US trademark. CalorieKing provides the database service that powers GoMeals through a partnership with Sanofi US.
© 2013 The DX: The Diabetes Experience