I’m always the last person to get on board with anything new and technology-related (at least among my age group – still doing better than my parents!), but I’ve finally caught up with the rest of the world and have been filling up my phone and iPod with apps; more specifically, fitness and nutrition apps. I’m planning to do a series of posts featuring my favorite apps in different categories, but I’m starting with nutrition and healthy eating apps because I figure just about everyone is looking for a way to make eating healthier easier.
I read a ton of healthy living blogs and fitness forums, and it’s kind of fascinating to see how much fitness goals and routines vary from one person to the next. But whether we’re trying to lose weight, maintain, add muscle or just have a healthy pregnancy (that’s me!), wanting to make healthy food choices is a goal we all have in common.
At this point I’m only reviewing free apps because I’m a cheapskate about certain things, and I always exhaust all free options before forking over money. Fortunately, there are plenty of fantastic and free apps available, so I haven’t had to shell out the 99 cents for a single app yet
Here we go: my favorite healthy eating apps, in no particular order:
My Fitness Pal
If you’re interested in tracking calories and nutrients, this is my favorite app for the single reason that the library of foods to choose from is absolutely enormous. You don’t have to waste time plugging in nutrition facts or settle for entering ‘whole wheat bread’; you can find pretty much every brand and variety of bread (or pasta/yogurt/cereal/oats/etc.) entered by other users. If you can’t find the food you’re looking for, or if you want to enter custom nutritional info (if, for example, you made your own recipe at home), it’s simple to enter the stats. Plus, if you’re only interested in tracking calories, you can quickly enter the calorie content for a new food and skip the other nutrition facts.
If you tend to eat the same foods most days (as most of us do), the app also keeps track of your foods in four categories: Most-Used, Recent, My Foods (custom-entered foods) and My Meals (you can save a group of foods together as a meal). I love this feature because it means I can just click once on the food or meal rather than having to search the food library every time.
Finally, the app includes a bar-code scanner so you can quickly scan packaged foods without having to search the food library or enter nutritional info manually. I’m still kind of amazed at this feature, even though I know bar-code scanners are nothing new. Guess it doesn’t take much to impress me!
This is actually my favorite all-in-one fitness app, because it also lets you track both cardio and strength exercise, and lets you see your weight-loss progress over time (if weight-loss is your goal), but I’ll get into the fitness aspects of the app another time – today it’s all about nutrition apps!
You can customize My Fitness Pal by setting your own nutrition goals, or enter your stats and let the app do it for you. You can also set a weight goal (whether that’s to lose, maintain or gain) and determine how much you want to lose/gain per week.
My only warning: the My Fitness Pal app and website are notorious for creating too-low calorie goals; this has happened to me and I see it mentioned all the time on fitness forums I visit. I recommend using a different website to determine how many calories you need, then entering that number as a custom calorie goal into the My Fitness Pal app.
Available for iPhone, iPod, Android and Blackberry
Know how I was just raving about the bar code scanner in the My Fitness Pal app? Fooducate takes scanning to a whole different level. Here’s how it works: you walk into a supermarket, pick up a box of crackers (or anything else with a bar code), scan it with Fooducate and you’ll get a full report on that product’s nutritional profile. Going way beyond simply listing calories, the app offers an overall grade from D to A, which is calculated by dietitians and nutrition professionals and is based upon nutrient density, as well as how the product compares to others in the same category. It also highlights important information, both good and bad, which varies from one food to the next; for example, you might learn that V8 juice contains ‘controversial artificial sweeteners’ or that Barilla whole-grain pasta is not 100% whole grain or that BetterOats oatmeal is naturally high in calcium.
Frankly, the FoodPoints values confuse me. The app says these points are a reference “for dieters” and that they’re calculated based on fat, carbs, fiber and protein; the lower the points value, the better. Kinda sounds like Weight Watchers points? But I find the numbers misleading; for example, they give ketchup a value of 0 (the best) while giving natural peanut butter (just peanuts and salt) a value of 5. Yes, peanut butter is much higher in fat and calories than ketchup, but it also has fiber and protein to help fill you up, while ketchup has very little nutritional value and is loaded with sugar and processed ingredients. Maybe I just don’t get the points system, but I definitely wouldn’t rely on it as a guide if I were trying to lose weight.
Available for iPhone, iPod and Android
It might sound like the name of a discount grocery chain, but Shopwell is actually an awesome app for choosing healthy foods. Like Fooducate, this one has a bar-code scanner (sensing a common theme here?) so you can check out the stats for individual products at the supermarket. But what I love even more about Shopwell, and what sets it apart from Fooducate, is that it’s a fantastic resource for discovering new foods and figuring out what foods are best for your individual goals.
Shopwell lets you customize your food preferences based upon your age and gender, your goals and nutritional considerations (weight control, athletic training, osteoporosis, gluten intolerance, etc.) and the ingredients and nutrients you want to emphasize and minimize in your diet; first you select the nutrients that are most important in your diet, then you choose things you’d like to keep to a minimum, such as added sugar, trans fats and preservatives, and finally you enter items you want to avoid entirely, like eggs, milk or wheat.
Now you can begin browsing foods that are a good match for your nutritional goals: choose a food category and Shopwell gives you a huge list of foods, ranked from best to worst for your goals; each food is given a score (100 being the best), with highlights explaining why it’s a good or bad choice for you. You’ll also find the nutrition facts and a list of ingredients, with the items you want highlighted in green and the ones you don’t want highlighted in orange. Like what you see? Shopwell has an “Add to Shopping List” option so you don’t need to create a handwritten list.
None that I’ve noticed yet. I guess if I had one complaint, it would be that I can’t always find some of the recommended products in regular supermarkets. However, that’s not really the fault of the app; it’s more the fact that the recommended foods are often the “health food” brands, and sadly, many grocery stores don’t stock those brands or they have a very limited selection. Oh yeah and the app isn’t available for Android users I actually have a Droid phone, but I use the app on my iPod touch.
Available for iPhone and iPod
EWG’s Dirty Dozen
Created by the Environmental Working Group, this app is designed to help shoppers reduce their exposure to pesticides in produce. You’ve probably already heard of The Dirty Dozen (the 12 fruits and veggies which contain the highest levels of pesticides) and The Clean Fifteen (the 15 which are lowest in pesticides). Having these lists at your fingertips helps you decide when it’s worth the extra money to buy organic, and when you can feel comfortable buying conventional produce. But the Dirty Dozen app offers more than that; it also gives a full list of 53 fruits and veggies ranked from highest to lowest in pesticides (did you know cilantro is #13 on the list of most contaminated foods?). It also contains a FAQ which answers questions about the dangers of pesticides, minimizing your exposure and the truth behind common myths about pesticides and organic foods.
None. The app is fairly simple and straightforward – there’s not a whole lot to it. But I think that’s the beauty of it. And anyway, it’s free – how can you argue with that?
Available for iPhone, iPod and Android
There you have it – happy downloading!
What are your favorite healthy eating and nutrition apps? Any recommendations for me?