Food-tracking apps that will help you control your diet
The traditional British approach to Christmas is well known, but now January has come and the festive treats have run out. And for many of us trying to get back to healthy habits, food-tracking apps are playing a role. Apps like MyFitnessPal, Noom Coach and MyNetDiary aren’t designed just for losing weight, even if that’s how a lot of people use them.
They’re as much about learning what’s in our meals, snacks and drinks, and understanding how what we eat relates to the exercise we get (or don’t get) every day. Here are four food-tracking apps that could help you understand your diet.
MyFitnessPal is the most high-profile calorie counter, with more than 80 million users by the time it was bought for $475m by sports brand Under Armour in February 2015.
The app makes it easy to log your meals and snacks, either by searching for them or scanning product barcodes. It has a huge database of more than 5m foods, with helpful green-tick symbols marking those where their nutritional information has been verified as accurate.
MyFitnessPal also doubles as an exercise tracker: it’ll calculate calories burned from activities from running and rowing to abdominal crunches and even mowing the lawn. The app also connects to a wide range of wearable fitness-bands and health apps too: for example, I have data feeding in to it from my Fitbit band and RunKeeper exercise-tracking app.
You can set goals for weight, nutrition and fitness, with simple but clear graphs showing how you’re doing. Adding friends via Facebook, your phone contacts or email can provide encouragement, while the app also provides access to forums to swap tips with a bustling community of strangers.
MyFitnessPal is free with advertising, but it has a premium tier costing £7.99 a month or £39.99 a year. It removes the ads; bumps you up the queue for customer support; lets you dig deeper into “macronutrients” in your diet; provides recipe meal plans, and enables you to fine-tune your daily goals and nutritional plans.
Lose It is one of the apps that puts the emphasis firmly on losing weight, as the name suggests. Like its rivals, it starts by getting you to set a goal: using your current and target weights, height, gender and desired pace of weight loss to assign a daily “budget” for your food intake.
Graphs on your intake, nutrients and steps are very clear, while the process for logging your meals, snacks and exercise is quick and easy too, whether you’re searching for ingredients or scanning barcodes. The ability to browse menus from popular restaurant brands, from KFC to Nando’s, is also handy.
Lose It’s challenges are a key feature: choosing specific goals like a maximum carbs limit, or simply logging in regularly, and then comparing yourself to others in rankings tables. There are also groups around topics like cycling and cooking to meet likeminded users, and the ability to add friends using their email addresses.
Lose It is also free at its basic level, but its premium tier costs £29.99 a year. It offers more tracking (hydration, sleep, body fat etc); more detailed nutritional reports; more features for meal and exercise planning, and a wider range of challenges including the ability to create your own.
Noom Coach features the same basic features as its rivals: you tell it how much weight you want to lose and the pace at which you want to lose it – turtle, rabbit or cheetah speed – and it uses that information to set your goal.
Logging meals and snacks is quick and easy, but one of Noom Coach’s key differences is its traffic-lights system classifying food into green, yellow and red categories based on their calorie counts, with the app recommending that you try to make 30% of your intake green foods, 45% yellow and 25% red.
On iOS, Noom Coach integrates with Apple’s HealthKit, which in turn can pull in data from other fitness apps and devices. There’s less to offer than rivals in terms of social features to connect to your friends, however.
Noom Coach is a decent basic tracker, but its most useful features are contained within its premium tier, which gets you to input information like how sedentary your weekdays and weekends are, your favourite activities and motivations for fitness, then creates a custom plan for you.
The pro tier costs £7.99 a month, £14.99 every three months or £29.99 a year, adding healthy recipes and access to private groups of people with similar habits and goals to you, to gee one another along.
HAPIcoach takes a different approach to most of its rivals: it’s less about numbers and self-tracking, and more about real nutritionists casting their expert eyes over what you’re eating and drinking.
You start by logging 10 meals in five days: not by looking up ingredients and their calories, but by taking photos of them with your smartphone camera. You’ll then get an analysis back on how impressive your kale salad habits are (or how unimpressive your KFC and kebab habits are).
HAPIcoach gets you to set goals in the same way as the other apps, but also asks you to rate your motivation and how long you’re willing to spend on the process every day. It’s all geared towards upgrading to its premium tier, where you choose one of a selection of human coaches to oversee your progress – all of whom are licensed, working nutritionists.
They’ll rate your meals as you post them; can be messaged whenever you want for advice or encouragement; and you’ll also get a personalised programme and meal-planner.
This comes at a much higher price: £39.99 a month, but the service is keen to be compared against the cost of real-world consultations, which could cost upwards of £100 for a one-hour appointment.