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Smart Apps for Smart Appetites

Using mobile technology to keep clients' nutrition on track.

During the holiday season, your clients need a defense against the temptations of devilish desserts and traditional feasts. After all, in the U.S. the 6 weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day cause, on average, 0.8–1.4 pounds of weight gain (five times more in those who are overweight or obese), accounting for 51% of the yearly weight gain in the typical American (NIH 2000; Hull et al. 2006).

Holiday pounds can pile up quickly over the years, and the consequences of poor food choices can last a lifetime. Fortunately, the Web and an ever-expanding array of smartphone apps can arm your clients with knowledge and tools that will keep them accountable to their nutrition goals and help them maintain healthy diets. Read on for tips on food-related websites and nutrition apps that your clients should bookmark and download before heading into the new year.

Sticking to Nutrition Facts

The more clients know about the foods they consume, the more likely they are to choose healthy options (Drewnowski & Fulgoni 2008). One online resource brimming with nutrition knowledge is Nutrition Data, http://nutritiondata.self.com, produced by the Condé Nast publishing empire. Type in any food and get data about its glycemic load, amino acid profile, fullness factor, inflammation factor and caloric ratios—based on data from the USDA’s National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference. Skip the blogs and newsletters (which are not updated regularly) and go directly to the Compare Foods tool, which shows how different entrées, snacks and other edibles stack up, nutritionally.

The mobile app Fooducate (www.fooducate.com; free, iPhone & Android™) makes learning interactive. Find a food, take a picture of its barcode with the phone’s camera and instantly learn about product details. Foods are categorized by letter grades (A+ for healthy) and assigned FoodPoints (for dieters). The app does not display detailed nutrition facts, but general product alerts—pointing out confusing serving sizes or excessive amounts of sugar, additives and preservatives—offer warnings not always evident from reading a label.

Food courts and restaurants can be alluring during long shopping days and family outings. Clients equipped with fast-food mobile apps, such as Fast Food Calorie Counter ($0.99, iPhone) and Restaurant Nutrition (free, iPhone & Android), can quickly find healthier on-the-go options.

Plan to Succeed

Top chefs know that successful meals begin with proper planning. Consumers may feel saturated with recipes and cooking tips, thanks to sites like www.allrecipes.com, www.epicurious.com, www.foodnetwork.com and www.recipegoldmine.com,
but they still need help planning healthy holiday feasts, figuring out how to make nutritious substitutions and discovering where to shop
for yummy deals.

Most local grocery stores have websites or apps to help customers plan meals around weekly sales. For those that don’t, the following mobile apps may make a client’s next trip to the grocery store less overwhelming and more cost-effective:

Food on the Table

www.foodonthetable.com; free, iPhone & Android
This customized cookbook shows only recipes that jibe with the user’s personal preferences for cooking times, types of food, styles of dishes and dietary restrictions. Assign multiple grocery stores to your profile to view local deals. Bonus: The built-in grocery list automatically updates when meals are added or removed.

Prep & Pantry

www.prepandpantry.com; free & $4.99, iPhone & iPad
The app creates an inventory of the kitchen. Scan items into the “pantry” and include relevant information (item photos, coupons, quantity, extra notes). Search items by name, expiration date and location (kitchen fridge, garage freezer, etc.) and add foods to the shopping list when running low. Bonus: Grocery purchases are synced to the app, making rescanning unnecessary.


www.shopwell.com; free, iPhone
This one is perfect for finding foods that match dietary needs and preferences. Set profile goals and customize the “wants” and “don’t wants” in a diet (more calcium, less sodium, etc.). Based on that profile, the app determines which foods score high, which ones to avoid and why. Bonus: Substitutes and food alternatives are always listed.

Tracking Every Byte

Food journaling can nearly double weight loss effects (Hollis et al. 2008). Even if weight loss is not the desired goal, any form of self-reevaluation gives clients a chance to reflect on healthy behaviors. “It is easier to change unhealthy behaviors when we are aware of the pattern,” says Jennifer Shapiro, PhD, a licensed clinical psychologist specializing in eating disorders and obesity in San Diego.

In the last decade, dozens of food diaries have become available digitally via the Web and mobile apps. Most of these tools are free and include comprehensive features that track fitness and foods; examples are SuperTracker (www.choose
myplate.gov, previously mypyramidtracker.gov) and The Daily Plate (www.live
strong.com/thedailyplate). “By using a diary to record” calorie intake, meal times, situations and moods, Shapiro says, “one may learn the emotional reasons for eating other than hunger.” For more on food journaling using smartphones, read “You App What You Eat” in the sidebar.

The Power of Friends and Food

Studies related to social networks have shown that friends and family have significant roles in weight loss, eating disorders and obesity (Paxton et al. 1999; Christakis & Fowler 2007). These days, most apps and websites integrate with Twitter™ or Facebook. “Posting pictures of meals, [stating] daily goals and sharing healthy recipes . . . on Facebook and Pinterest can be a good way to receive support from your friends and keep you feeling accountable to your goals,” says Shapiro.

Personal trainers who engage clients in social networks can offer professional support by “liking” status updates that promote healthy behaviors, posting motivating comments to conversation threads or creating healthy challenges with apps like ChallengeLoop (www.challengeloop.com; free, iPhone), which integrates with Facebook.

Holiday meals can bring friends and strangers together. GrubWithUs (www.grubwithus.com), a new social network for foodies, adds a twist to the dining experience (think Groupon™ meets Meetup). Diners (or “grubbers”) select the date, time and type of meal (sushi, Italian, vegan, etc.), and GrubWithUs makes the reservation at a local restaurant for a discounted price—the only mystery ingredients at the table are the dinner guests.

Explore these tools and resources for yourself and recommend the ones most appropriate for your clients before they head out for the holidays.

You App What You Eat

When it comes to tracking food, notepads and calorie cheat-sheets are things of the past. With nearly 50% of the U.S. population owning smartphones (~30% worldwide), food diaries have gone digital (Smith 2012; Bonnington 2011). Scanning product barcodes and snapping photos of foods make it easier to track eating behaviors more accurately and in real time. Clients should choose food-tracking apps that are user-friendly, that hold them accountable to their diets and that report the information they need to achieve their goals. The author found these apps the most effective*:

Munch 5-a-Day
www.munch5aday.com; free, iPhone This app tracks only fruit and veggie intake. Use it to work toward a daily goal and to post achievements on Facebook or Twitter. Best for younger clients and those new to food journaling.

Lose It!
www.loseit.com; free, iPhone & Android and
My Fitness Pal
www.myfitnesspal.com; free; iPhone, Android, BlackBerry® & Windows®

Both of these apps have extensive food databases and will track nutrition in detail. Use them to scan barcodes, set calorie goals and dietary preferences, track weight and physical activities and share progress with friends. Both include a Web-based interface (syncs with app) that offers extensive reporting features and progress summaries. Best for clients who are data driven and who are tracking multiple eating variables.

The Eatery
https://eatery.massivehealth.com; free, iPhoneThis is not a scientific tool for food logging (portion sizes are described as “a smidgen,” “some,” “you will be very full,” etc.), but the app quickly gauges consensus among users on whether foods are good or bad. Use it to snap photos of meals and post images to the Eatery community, where fellow users will rate your meals on a scale of “fit” to “fat.” (Have fun rating other people’s meals as well.) Best for visually motivated clients and those who like taking pictures of their food; great for teaching portion sizes.

www.trackandshareapps.com; free, iPhoneMost trackers do not take into account that factors like mood or stress can influence eating behaviors. This app allows users to track any behavior in their lives. Use it to set categories and tracking variables. Best for clients wanting a holistic or flexible approach to food journaling; a great supplement to other food apps.

Other Options
Traditional food journals can be just as effective as apps (Microsoft® Office Online has a variety of templates available for download: http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/templates). Regardless of the journaling method clients choose, food diaries offer an initial awareness tool. Clients should consult a nutrition expert or registered dietitian for additional analysis or dietary recommendations.

*The author (informally) tested various apps during a 7- to 10-day food-tracking period, assessing them for usability, functionality and effectiveness.


Bonnington, C. 2011. Global smartphone adoption approaches 30%. Wired Gadget Lab. www.wired.com/gadgetlab/2011/11/smartphones-feature-phones; retrieved Aug. 12, 2012.
Christakis, N.A., & Fowler, J.H. 2007. The spread of obesity in a large social network over 32 years. The New England Journal of Medicine, 357 (4), 370-79.
Drewnowski, A., & Fulgoni, V. 2008. Nutrition profiling of foods: Creating a nutrient food index. Nutrition Reviews, 66 (1), 23-39.
Hollis, J.F., et al. 2008. Weight loss during the intensive intervention phase of the weight-loss maintenance trial. American Journal of Preventative Medicine, 35 (2), 118-26.
Hull, H.R. 2006. The effect of the Thanksgiving holiday on weight gain. Nutrition Journal, 5, 29.
NIH (National Institutes of Health). 2000. Holiday weight gain slight, but may last a lifetime. www.nichd.nih.gov/news/releases/holidayweightgain.cfm; retrieved Aug. 12, 2012.
Paxton, S.J., et al. 1999. Friendship clique and peer influences on body image concerns, dietary restraint, extreme weight-loss behaviors, and binge eating in adolescent girls. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 108 (2), 255-66.
Smith, A. 2012. Nearly half of American adults are smartphone owners. Pew Internet & American Life Project. http://pewinternet.org/Reports/2012/Smartphone-Update-2012; retrieved Aug. 12, 2012.

Biray Alsac, MS

Biray Alsac, MS, is the owner of FITTmaxx Institute, a consulting company for health organizations and fitness/wellness professionals interested in learning how to integrate Web-based tools and interactive technologies (exergames) into their programming. She holds a masterÔÇÖs degree in exercise and wellness.
Certification: ACE
Education provider for: ACE

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