- Computers & Software
Portable Calorie Counter Guide - Food Tracker Smartphone Apps & Software
A lot of people turn to special websites, computer programs, and single-purpose handheld devices when counting calories. While this works, it can be a hassle carrying special devices around, or taking notes to enter something on a computer later.
If you decide to take the route of counting calories, it's best to be able to do so right as you're eating. It saves you time, and improves your accuracy. The best tools to enable you to do this are smartphone apps, but below, I'll outline the entire spread of tools you have to choose from to effectively count calories so you have an idea of the choices.
Before You Start - Things to Consider
Before you pick one of the below programs and start counting calories, keep in mind that there are certain features you should consider in your search:
- Inputs: Any truly useful app should include inputs for not only calories, but also exercise.
- Food database: Some apps have better food databases than others. Consider the types of food you eat most. If you eat a lot of restaurant food, you may want to go with an app that emphasizes that.
- Customizable features: Some apps make it easier to create custom food entries than others. Keep this in mind if you want to create custom entries for your favorite recipes and the like.
- Cost: You may think you need to pay for calorie counters, but many are free, so don't feel obligated to splurge.
- Internet connection: Some programs require that you be online when entering information or accessing your records. Will you always have the internet available? Do you travel a lot? You may want to consider a program that works offline as well as online if you're out and about a lot.
- User interface: Some programs' user interfaces are prettier than others. If you are going to use this thing a lot, you might as well pick one that is visually pleasing to you.
- Extra features: Do you also want to track your weight, water intake, mood, sleep patterns, or other aspects of your health? If so, look for these extra input options. They're available in many, but not all, apps.
The Best Calorie Counting Smartphone Apps
Lose It! - Free - This app includes all the basic inputs and makes it easy to set goals, plus it has pretty little icons for the foods you enter. What's more, Lose It!'s database includes a lot of brand name foods, which can save you a lot of time when it comes to making custom entries.
GoMeals by Sanofi - Free - Especially designed for those with diabetes, this nifty app wins the prize for MOST GORGEOUS user interface. Seriously. Tapping into CalorieKing's nutritional database, this app includes great visual feedback as well as a respectable database of restaurant foods and even a built-in restaurant finder.
MyFitnessPal - In addition to its 525,000+ food database (and 350+ exercise database), MyFitnessPal does not require internet connection, is faster than many other food apps (which can get slow and clunky after a while), allows you to use custom goals, offers compimentary online community, and crashes less.
LIVESTRONG.COM Calorie Tracker - $2.99 - Includes a database of over 525,000 (that's the upper limit for most apps) foods and more than 2,000 fitness activities (which is a LOT morethan what most apps offer). This app also offers corresponding community (The Daily Plate, or TDP) online, with a bi-directional synch, which is a big bonus.
Calorie Counter by FatSecret - Free - Offers a journal in addition to the typical database, food diary, activity diary, and weight chart. Is available on Blackberry and Android phones as well as iPhones.
Tap & Track - This app allows you to select one of four different diet plans, which is a different and fun approach, especially for those who want more direction, and factors in your BMI and job type when calculating recommended caloric intake. The database of food items is slimmer though - it only offers 7,000 food items as opposed to the whopping 525K offered by others, but sometimes this simplicity improves speed and efficiency.
Calorie Counter PRO by MyNetDiary - $2.99 - Has a database of 300,000 foods, and 500 exercises leaving it mid-range in that department, and includes a free web component for online food entry and backup of records. One of the BIG setbacks of this app is that internet connection is needed to enter information.
Absolute Fitness - $4.99 - Offers all the major features, plus online backup, but internet is not required to enter information. As an added bonus, you can create custom meals made of multiple components and be able to add them to your food diary as a batch. Another nice feature is a favorites option that allows you to star frequently eaten foods for convenience and speed.
A Closer Look at Fitday
Calorie Counting Websites
These sites are best for occasional calorie counting and reference, as well as educational communities and community. For more consistent calorie tracking, I recommend a more portable alternative.
CalorieKing - Free - If you've ever Googled calories before, you've probably come across CalorieKing, which has an extensive online database of foods (many of them branded and restaurant foods) to poke through.
The Daily Plate - Free - Tracking, guides, goal setting tools, groups, and forums. The site is pretty straightforward, and is the online compliment to the LIVESTRONG app (see above)
FitDay - Free - Easy online food journaling with an option to extend services with an offline software package (see below).
MyFitnessPal - Free - The online compliment to the app (see above) which offers community in addition to basic tools.
Calorie Count - A free website to join and use for calorie tracking, Calorie Count also offers community and food suggestions based on what you already eat, which is pretty cool. The general idea of the site is that different plans work for different people, so you'll find something nice and tailored to your needs.
Calorie Counting Computer Software
For those who do not want to put all of their records on the internet, or do not want to rely on internet connections in order to track calories, but do not have a smartphone, calorie counting software is the way to go. The big plus for these is that most offer printable reports enabling you to take your records to a nutritionist or doctor.
FitDay has existed in software form for many years, and offers a fairly easy to use interface with good feedback. Its software even includes extra features such as mood trackers so that you can investigate whether your eating behavior somehow correlates to your moods.
DietOrganizer - DietOrganizer offers a diary which conveniently puts all information into one page (from the total diary of a day to a quick summary of calorie breakdown, goals, and nutrients. The program isn't free, but you can download a free 10 day trial version. There is also a Mac, Palm, Blackberry, mobile phone, Windows Mobile, and iPhone version of the software, but I wouldn't recommend them, as there are better alternatives for each platform.
A Closer Look at the Bodybugg
Handheld Calorie Counter Devices
Handheld calorie counter devices are on their way out, because smartphones can do everything these things do, plus make calls, book a restaurant reservation, entertain your kids, check email, take photos, etc... That said, here's a quick look at the major devices:
The Coheso CalorieSmart handheld calorie counter - $59.99-$79.99 - This handheld device that looks kind of like a chunky graphing calculator (physical keyboard, non-color screen) has a database of 50,000 foods and 250 restaurants, allows you to track both diet and exercise, and gives you the option to make custom foods. This device is made utterly obsolete by smartphones.
The Apex BodyBugg - $249 - This system includes a device (a sort of crazy arm band that measures movement, temperature, moisture, etc...) which doesn't really help you in the food arena, but I'm including it here because it is probably the best (in terms of features and accuracy) calorie OUTPUT tracker out there right now. The subscription system (the first year of which is paid for in your initial purchase) also has online calorie input features, but they're not so portable.
Other Calorie Counting Tools
One of the most common calorie counting complaints is that it's so much easier to measure calories out than it is to measure calories in. We have a wide range of technology available - from exercise machines to GPS devices to specialized arm bands that monitor heart rate, body temperature, sweat, and movement to give us accurate readings of how much energy we expend, but whenit comes to taking calories in, we have to make a lot of tough judgment calls.
One of the most difficult aspects of calorie counting involves determining portion size. Even something as a slice of toast can vary immensely in actual weight, even different slices may actually look identical to us. Measuring liquid foods, such as soups, which are rarely served in easily measurable bowls, is most often an exercise in futility.
As it stands now, the only truly accurate way to measure food portions for input into one of the calorie counting programs outlined above is to weigh it. That's a downside. The slight upside is that there is a huge variety of portable scales out there.
When purchasing a scale for the sake of food measurement, there are two types to consider: One for the kitchen, and one for on-the-go meals, should you want to measure those as well.
When purchasing any kind of scale, purchase a digital one. They maintain a higher degree of accuracy over time and are easier to read. Prices range from around $20 to $100 (most of them being in the $20-40 range) and most models are good.
When buying a scale for in-home use, I recommend choosing one that has a color and look that matches your kitchen. When buying one for making on-the-go measurements, however, you'll want the most portable, small scale available. Your best bet in that event is the Escali Liberta Portable Food Scale. It's about the size of a baguette slice and has a top that folds over and makes it look entirely unassuming in a bag or purse.