- Best Apps for Food Journaling
- Calorie Counter by Lose It! for Diet & Weight Loss
- Welcome to My Food Record
- Allrecipes Dinner Spinner (free)
- Veganized (free)
- Mealime (free)
- FoodPlanner (free)
- MealPlan+ ($4)
- MealBoard ($4)
- Eat This Much (free)
- Lose It! (free)
- Paprika ($5)
- Yummly (free)
- Cook Smarts
- Plan to Eat
- 10 Best Health & Nutrition Education Apps for Kids
- Ten Mobile Apps for Kids That Will Help Them Learn About and Appreciate a Healthier Lifestyle
- 10 nutrition and diet apps for 2019
- Nutrition & diet apps for Android & iPhone
- What You See is What You Get
- Information at a Glance
- Portion Control and More Healthy Choices
- MakeMyPlate Diet Meal Planner
- Counting calories
- Portion size matters
- The problem with food labels
- A way to deflect blame
Best Apps for Food Journaling
by Alexis Bradford
Have you ever daydreamed about having a dietitian on call to help you navigate the confounding labyrinth of nutritional tenets like: “healthy eating,” “dieting,” “weight loss,” and “meal tracking”? What’s more, have you ever fantasized that this illustrious nutrition guru would offer you their expertise for free?
For most, having an esteemed dietitian at their beck and call is just that—a daydream. However, what isn’t a daydream, is the convenient and economical alternative of having a preferred digital dietary resource available to you 24 hours a day. Whether you enjoy snapping photos of your food or logging your calorie consumption the old-fashioned way with pen and paper, food journaling apps are an efficient modern method of tracking your food intake throughout the day.
With so many food journaling apps to choose from, it may be difficult to narrow down the app that suits your lifestyle, personality, and nutritional goals. While modes of dieting often vary, the aims are virtually unchangeable: feel better, look better, and lose weight. Whatever your personal nutritional goals are, rest assured that there is an app to help make those goals achievable.
Here is the skinny on the best food journaling apps for your individual weight loss or overall nutritional improvement goals:
This app is one of the most sought-after apps in the food diary game. The MyFitnessPal app boasts a food database comprising over two million items. Indicate your current weight, what your target weight is, height, age, activity level, exercise regimen, and how many pounds you would like to shed per week, and the MyFitnessPal app will assist you with staying on track toward your target weight loss goal. In addition to logging what you eat and what you’ve had to drink throughout the day, this app tracks your fitness regimen and provides support and motivation from fellow users. The MyFitnessPal app is available for free through iTunes and Google Play.
Macros is shorthand for macronutrients—specifically the nutrients that your body needs in copious amounts (hence the term “macro”). Carbohydrates, fat, and protein are the holy trinity of the macro diet. So, whether your journaling focus is on carbs, fat, or protein this app will tell you how much of each nutrient you need. The Macro Coach feature will also scan barcodes on food packages to find the nutrition facts of your favorite foods for you. The Fitocracy Macros app is available for free through iTunes.
Keto Diet Meal Plan
Weight loss is not the only reason the high-fat, low carb ketogenic diet is touted as a diet actually worth its weight in results (no pun intended)—research also suggests that the ketogenic diet may be an effective regulation tool for improving your mental health by decreasing symptoms of depression, anxiety, and ADHD. The Keto Diet Meal Plan app provides you with meal plans within your carb limits. An expedient and convenient feature of this app takes care of the tedious carb-counting work of traditional dieting for you. The Keto Diet Meal Plan app is available for free through iTunes.
Perhaps dieting, exercise, and better nutrition are not the only concerns you have about keeping close tabs on how much you eat. Body image is also a fundamental concern of those seeking to improve their health. Rise Up is an app designed with eating disorder sufferers in mind. Its basic principles of self-monitoring are derived from tenets of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). In addition to logging your meals, you can add distinct details like: the location of where you ate, whom you were with, and your mood at the time you ate. The Rise Up app is available for free through iTunes and Google Play.
Whether your desire is to lose weight, acquire more muscle, or to just feel healthier, this app caters to the versatility of the average individual’s weight loss goals. Utilize this app to track your daily activities and manage your food diary. A built-in bar code scanner enables you to efficiently search for the food you want to include in your log. The Yazio app is available for free through iTunes and Google Play.
See How You Eat
The rise of social media colossuses like Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook has taught us two basic truths: (a) selfies are an indelible feature of the modern digital landscape and (b) as a runner-up to taking pictures of themselves, people love snapping and sharing photos of food. The See How You Eat app was designed with visual learners in mind. Using this app, you can see at a glance all of the food you have consumed that day. Visual reminders of what you’ve had to eat on a given day create a compelling argument for making healthier choices. This app promotes healthy eating at regular intervals to boost energy and abate impulsive food choices that can wreak havoc on your longterm nutritional goals. The See How You Eat app is available for free through iTunes and Google Play.
In addition to an online food diary, this app promotes a comprehensive database of 625,000 foods and 1,500 fitnessrelated items that enable users to monitor their daily calorie consumption as well as how many calories they burn. Calories can be tracked over a specified period and delineations of how those calories were acquired or burned are also provided. The MyPlate app is available for free through iTunes.
This app takes the tedium, guilt, and ambiguity out of classic food journaling. YouAte encourages users to steer their focus away from traditional carb counting and calorie emphasis by simply taking a closer look at the food choices they are making.
Maintaining a food journal on this app is as convenient as snapping a photo of everything you munch on throughout the day. Reviewing snapshots of the food they eat motivates users to consistently evaluate whether the choices they’re making are really helping them to achieve their goals. The YouAte app is available for free through iTunes.
The Pukapal app is an imaginative and interactive spin on the traditional food diary app. Users of this app “feed their puka” by documenting and sharing their meals and by liking their favorite dishes. Pukapal allows users to upload photos of their food to their timeline, add captions, and earn rewards by sharing and inviting friends to join. This collaborative app also offers weekly timeline suggestions to motivate and inspire users to continue tracking their culinary adventures. The Pukapal app is available for free through iTunes.
My Food Diary
This app takes a holistic approach to helping you achieve your weight loss goal. My Food Diary features seven different methods for logging meals and a vast database of 80,000 expertly complied food items. If you wish to share your account with a spouse, friend, or significant other you can also log recipes that you and your companion commonly make. My Food Diary provides color-coded nutrition reports daily and you can even assemble your own graphs using personally selected data. The My Food Diary is available for free to members of the MyFoodDiary website.
So, whether you are a snap-and-post food journal enthusiast or more of the meticulous and traditional recordkeeper variety—maintaining a log of what you eat just got easier, more convenient, more modern, and more fun with the creation of these vastly popular food tracking apps. Nutritional goals may vary from person to person, but rates of achieving long-term success can grow exponentially when you have resources and collaborative feedback at your fingertips.
Calorie Counter by Lose It! for Diet & Weight Loss
Lose It! is a calorie counter & food diary diet app that helps you reach your goal weight. Simply download the app, set your goals and track your food and exercises to lose weight. Easily track macro, carb and calorie intake with Lose It! calorie counter & food diary app!
Since our launch in 2008 we have been featured in The Wall Street Journal, The Today Show, Men’s Health, Women’s Health, CNET, Buzzfeed, CNN, Shape, Good Morning America, and more.
• 80+ million pounds of weight lost by our members (and counting)
• 27+ million searchable items in our comprehensive international food library database
• 40+ million users who have started their weight loss journey with Lose It!
• 25+ macro nutrient and health goals to choose from
• 3 days of tracking is all it takes before a user starts to see a result in weight loss
Stay on track of your diet with Lose It! Calorie Counter. Whether it be a keto diet, vegan diet or anything in between, Lose It! will help you track your macro, carb and calorie intake to reach your weight loss and health goals. Stop making excuses – start losing weight and taking your health back with Lose It!
HOW THE LOSE IT! CALORIE COUNTER APP HELPS YOUR WEIGHT LOSS JOURNEY
Lose It! uses the proven principles of calorie counting and tracking to help you succeed. To get started just input your profile details with your goal weight and we’ll calculate the daily calorie budget best for you. Next, easily track your food, weight, and activity and get ready to celebrate your weight loss victories. Gain insight on your macro, carb, protein, sugar, fat and overall calorie and food intake on a daily level. Stay on top of your keto, vegan, vegetarian or whole 30 diet! There’s no easier way to change your calorie and diet habits and learn about your nutrition needs.
LOSE IT! CALORIE COUNTER FEATURES
• Barcode Scanner – quickly scan food barcodes or search our database to track your carb, macro and calorie intake.
• Snap It – log food by simply taking a photo of your food. Just tap the camera icon for food and calorie tracking in a snap. (2016 CES Innovation Award Winner).
• Track Nutrients – track more than just calories including macro, protein, water, carb, sugar, body measurements, sleep cycles, and more. Stay on top of your keto, vegan or vegetarian diet needs!
• Fitness App Syncs – connect trackers, apps, and devices like Fitbit trackers, Misfit trackers, Fitbit scales, Garmin trackers, Withings scales, Google Fit, Healthkit, and more.
• Challenges – step up your game with fun weight loss, fruit/veggie, and exercise challenges by yourself or with your friends. That’s some serious health motivation!
• Meal Planning & Targets – meal targets helps you calculate suggested macro, carb, protein and overall calorie intake. Easily customize your diet and eating!
• Patterns – learn about your food habits with our exclusive personal insights and patterns to identify what is hindering or helping your progress.
• Recipes – customize your diet and weight loss journey with breakfast, lunch, and dinner meals you create yourself. Find easy food recipes for Keto, vegan, vegetarian, Whole 30 or any diet!
• Workout Guides – library of workouts to help guide you to weight loss success. Weight loss is more than just a diet! Get moving and work your way to healthy living.
Download Lose It! Calorie Counter today and join our community of members helping us reach our mission to mobilize the world to achieve a healthy weight. No matter your diet needs, no matter the weight loss goals, Lose it! Calorie Counter can help you find healthy success!
LOSE IT! SUBSCRIPTION PRICING & TERMS
Lose It! basic is free, but you can upgrade to Premium to unlock awesome additional features. Premium members report 3x the weight loss of free members.
For our full terms please visit:
Welcome to My Food Record
USDA Super Tracker website was shut down June 30, 2018. For current users of Super Tracker, My Food Record would be an excellent alternative website to keep track of foods you eat and exercise options.
Our Analysis and Exercise tools are all NEW with the most popular features! We updated to the latest food and exercise data. We’ve really simplified how you can record what you eat. You can favorite foods you eat often and add custom foods that you buy. You can even favorite your custom foods. My Food Record will also help improve the nutrition quality of what you eat by guiding you to add Nutrient Rich foods you will actually eat for the nutrients you are lacking.
You can keep track of what you eat from day to day as often as you like on your mobile phone / tablet or PC / Mac. Science has proven if you keep track of your food as you eat, it will change your eating behaviors. Hey who doesn’t want to eat healthier?
If you create an account and login, My Food Record will keep track of what you eat, your favorite and custom foods which are not shared with anybody else. If you don’t login, your food record will only be saved until you close the browser.
Our exercise tools help you burn off excess caloriesyou ate today, exercise regularly and exercises for the time you have today. Check out Calorie Burn, Exercise Burn and Time to Burn after creating an account or guest profile.
If you would like to learn how to use My Food Record, please go to Support. Please enable Cookies in your browser tools by clicking on Tools (FireFox) or Settings (Chrome) or Options (Internet Explorer) in your browser menu. Also, make sure you have the latest version of Java. You can check to see if you have the latest version Java from Oracle which is needed to analyze your food.
By Allison Mars, Dietetics Student, Sargent College
This week on Best of the Food Apps we discuss “Go Meals”. Although not on the original food app list, one of our dietitians Laura Judd recommended it.
Go Meals lets you keep track of your food intake in a 30 day log. You can search various foods and even restaurant items then add them to “My Plate”. This plate totals up everything you’ve eaten for the day and lists the total calories consumed. Go Meals then breaks down what percentages of your calories were carbs, proteins, and fats based on the items you entered. It also lists how much sodium, fiber, total fat and saturated fat you’ve eaten. When you select a food item, it gives you the nutrition facts based on a serving size, which is listed clearly at the top of the page. For restaurant foods, a serving size is “One order”. Searching for foods can get a little tricky, but Go Meals has many different categories and sub-categories to help you refine your search.
Overall, Go Meals is a useful app if you are on a specific diet where you need to monitor your calories, sodium intake, or otherwise. It is also nice to be able to see the nutrition facts for restaurant items which often aren’t available.
Download Go Meals for you iPhone, iPad, or Android by clicking here.
Planning out meals is one of the best ways to eat healthier, cut calories, lose weight, and feed the whole family fast. It’s also pretty hard to do — but the right app can make your modern meals a whole lot easier to create, shop for, and prepare. Take a look at the best meal-planning apps that are ready to step up to the plate to give you a helping hand.
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Allrecipes Dinner Spinner (free)
If you need some help and some company in the kitchen, Allrecipes Dinner Spinner’s food-centric social app, with its community of more than 30 million home cooks, can help you put some variety in your dietary life. This personalized app gets smarter as you follow, save, or prepare various dishes. Tailor your selections by searching by keyword or ingredients to focus on dietary needs and time restrictions and then use the app to save, create, organize, and share recipe collections. You can also economize by cooking what’s on sale near you, and the app can suggest recipes when you walk to certain stores. Tap to add full recipes or ingredients to your shopping list, which you can cook with the help of some 1,000 step-by-step cooking videos, complete with cooking instructions.
Veganized is a plant-based diet meal planner that lets you search, create, and share vegan recipes and track your nutrition. It helps you plan meals and create shopping and grocery lists to gather all the items you need to prepare vegan recipes. As a recipe app with a social networking platform, you can find new recipes and create and share your own recipes with the community. A nutrients function lets you check all energy, macronutrient distribution, fiber, vitamin, and mineral information for each dish. Veganized helps you plan your meals every day and personalizes nutrient intake according to your age, gender, weight, and level of physical activity. And it generally helps to promote a vegan diet and lifestyle.
Mealime (no, not a typo) is designed around planning family or guest meals the easy way. You can create profiles of everyone you are cooking for, which can list likes, dislikes, general eating habits, allergies, and so on. You can also create profiles for couples or whole families to make planning a little easier. You can then look for recipes that match all those requirements. Pick one, and it gives you full instructions and can automatically add the necessary ingredients to your grocery list. Most recipes are focused on fast prep times around 30 minutes, so you may be able to save even more time in the kitchen. Recent updates to the app include new recipes, retooled older recipes, six-person servings and custom serving sizes, improvements to delivery integration with Instacart, revamped recipe descriptions and history, and the ability to share your list with other apps, print from your phone, or share with your family members inside the app.
FoodPlanner is based around recipes. It allows you to browse the web for healthy recipes and download them onto the app. It gives you the nutritional data for the meals and allows you to automatically generate a shopping list. An extra inventory-management system for the truly serious foodie allows you to keep track of your current ingredients, and you can also make recipes from scratch if you wish. There are sharing features as well that can help you figure out how to meal prep.
MealPlan presents you with meal tags that you can drag and drop into a weekly schedule to quickly plan your meals (and even email them to other people). The tags make it easy to search for specific meals, and can automatically generate grocery lists for you. You can also tweak meals to add snacks, put in links to specific recipes, or remove certain meals entirely. You can search for new meals and generate a tag for them, too. There’s a learning curve, but it’s a fun system, particularly if you have an iPad or an Apple Watch.
Do you love to customize every little detail? Then MealBoard may be the app for you. It acts like many of the other apps on our list, with a search function for meals pulled from the internet, the ability to plan out meals on a calendar, and the option to generate a grocery list. But a couple of features make it unique: The interface is particularly pleasant to use and easy to customize, and there’s a pantry mode that allows you to move ingredients to your pantry when you buy them and remove them when you run out.
Eat This Much (free)
Here’s a different approach: If your primary goal is to lose weight, then Eat This Much encourages you to enter your food preferences, how much money you want to spend, your schedule, and how many calories the meals will contain. It will then generate meal plans for you and provide grocery lists for the ingredients. If you like cooking (as opposed to meal delivery) but want to develop healthier eating habits, this app could help you do just that. Recent versions add the option to count and generate food based on net carbs. Subscribers can now order groceries online through AmazonFresh. Food Search has been overhauled, allowing you to browse multiple categories of foods at once, with your favorites easier to find, while clarifying the distinction between different food genres.
Lose It! (free)
Lose It! is a weight-loss app, but instead of recording the number of calories you want per meal, you just set general goals and a bodyweight target that you want to reach. Then you accurately track what you are eating and what sort of exercise you are getting. The app includes a food database with millions of options to choose from, a scanning function so you can instantly add purchased foods, and even some photo recognition for basic foods. It’s ideal if you like to combine planning with tracking. In recent updates the app now sends recipe ingredients as separate food items to the Apple Health App.
Paprika Recipe Manager 3 is an interactive meal planner. In addition to the usual features like finding recipes online, building automatic grocery lists, and planning meals for the week or month, it provides tools that you can use to go deeper. Automatically scale ingredients, cross them off as you add them to your dish, post photos to your recipes, and customize your grocery categories based on how you like to shop — there are tons of ways to make sure everything is just the way you like it. Newer versions add the ability to search recipe descriptions and better sync performance.
Yummly is a food-sharing and recipe-finding app that features plenty of vivid photos and a rating system to help you find the most popular (or at least the most talked-about) recipes online. When it comes time to actually make the dish, Yummly can also supply video guides, and even recommends food. If you have your meal routine worked out but need some help finding the right recipes, Yummly is a great, albeit more casual, app. Recent updates include Ingredient Recognition wherein Yummly uses real-time image recognition to detect the ingredients you have on hand and recommends the best recipes to make with them. A new Pro version is now available for $5 per month that features hands-on cooking shows from famous chefs from around the world.
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There’s a lot to be gained by planning your meals. You eat better, healthier food, do more cooking for yourself and put more thought into what you eat, try new recipes, and save at the grocery store at the same time. However, it can be a little daunting; sifting through recipes and making lists. That’s why there are apps that help. This week, we’re looking at five of the best.
Earlier in the week we asked you which meal planning apps you thought were the best to help you save money, eat better, and keep making awesome food. You nominated way more than we can highlight here, but these are your top five, in no particular order:
Cook Smarts isn’t so much a meal planning app as it is an entire meal planning service. In addition to helping you plan out your weekly meals, the service aims to help its users learn to cook, explore new recipes, get familiar with and comfortable in the kitchen, and eat more healthy, homemade food. The site’s blog and newsletter are free, but to make use of their meal planning tools, you’ll have to sign up for an account. You can get three sample plans for free, but the service will really cost you $6/mo (if you pay by the year, it goes up to $8/mo if you want to pay monthly.) The meal plans themselves are incredibly robust though—you tell the service how you want to eat—vegetarian, high protein, low-carb, paleo, or just a plain balanced diet, and you’ll get four new and interesting recipes every week along with ingredients, a downloadable and printable grocery list, and even step-by-step instructions and cooking videos to help you make everything.
Those of you who nominated and praised Cook Smarts explained that for the money you spend, it makes meal planning about as hands-off as you can get, and the results are worth it. Sure, the service isn’t anything you couldn’t do on your own with the right amount of time, but the reason you’re paying for it is so you don’t have to—and Cook Smarts delivers on the quality of recipes, interesting foods, and tutorials. The service also has a robust and active community around it of home cooks and food lovers eager to explore new foods, try new things, and eat well. You can read more in the nomination thread here.
Pepperplate is a mobile app and meal planning tool that excels at organizing your recipe collection, planning your meals based on those recipes, building out shopping lists, and helping you cook the recipes you want to try. It’s available for free on the web, on iOS, Android, Windows Phone/Windows RT, Nook, and Kindle devices. Once you’re signed up, you can import recipes from the web by pasting in the URL for them, or you can enter them manually from your favorite cookbooks or that stash of index cards you have. Once you have a good collection of recipes, you can build menus for your regular meals, for special events, or any night of the week. From there, Pepperplate will generate a shopping list based on your meal plan that you can take with you and cross off at the grocery store. You can share your recipes, meal plans, or shopping lists with others if you need to. When you’re ready to cook, Pepperplate will walk you through the recipes, complete with cooking timers to help you stay on top of simmering or baking food.
The nomination thread for Pepperplate was full of praise for the fact that the app is free, cross-platform, and easy to use. Many of you highlighted Pepperplate’s bookmarklet that makes adding recipes to your account super-easy (and does a great job of scrubbing recipes from various websites.) Pepperplate isn’t perfect though—it may be free, but some of you noted that it hasn’t seen updates in a while, and the developers may have abandoned it. That’s not a problem as long as the app is good, but it is something to remember if you want support or you’re looking for new features. Read more in the nomination thread here.
Ziplist started off as a simple grocery shopping list organizer, but it’s evolved over the years to be a richly featured shopping tool, recipe organizer, and meal planner. The focus of the app is clearly on grocery lists and organizing your weekly shopping, but don’t count out its meal planning features. It’s free, cross platform (available for iOS/Android/web), and even sports a clipping bookmarklet to save all of your favorite recipes (if it’s not already in their database.) When you’re ready to build your meal plan, you get a weekly overview that lets you add specific recipes and dishes to each day, and then generate a grocery list based on those recipes. Then you can sync your meal plan with your calendar outside of the app so you get notifications on what to make, and can share your weekly menu with others. Ziplist can also notify you to sales, coupons, and other discounts available in the stores you shop, so you can save money and eat well at the same time.
Those of you who nominated ZipList praised its department-sorted shopping lists, built-in store circulars and coupons, and the fact that unlike many apps that generate grocery lists based on recipes, it gives you the option to cross items off that you already have before it adds the item to the list. Plus, it doesn’t just add everything blindly, so if you have two recipes that require salt, your shopping list isn’t cluttered with entries for salt. You can read more about it its nomination thread here.
Plan to Eat
Plan to Eat is a menu planning and grocery list organizer that is as elegant as it is simple to use. It’s great for organizing your recipes, makes meal-planning a drag-and-drop affair from your recipe list onto a calendar, and will automatically generate your shopping list week by week. We’ve mentioned it before, and while it’s web-only (there are mobile apps on the way, according to the folks behind it) it’s still easy to use, powerful, and it gets the job done. Once you have a meal plan all set, just tell Plan to Eat to build your meal plan, and they’ll send it to you when its done, no hassle. Plan to Eat also plays nice with special diets, which is great if you have to cook for people with different tastes, or you’re trying something new with your own diet. The only downside is its price—a subscription will set you back $5/mo, or $40/yr. If you’re willing to pay the price for that level of ease-of-use, it’s a worthwhile investment so you can spend your time doing other things. There’s a free trial available if you want to give it a whirl before you decide to spend your money.
Those of you who nominated Plan to Eat highlighted its drag-and-drop menu planner, its exceptional customer service for those people who may need it, and its ease of use. It’s probably one of the easiest menu planning tools in the lineup, and even though it’s not free, many of you noted that you’re busy people with busy lives, and it helps to have Plan to Eat take care of the grocery list and recipe search for you. You can read tons more in its lengthy nominations thread here.
Paprika is a recipe manager for iPhone, iPad, OS X, Android, Kindle, and Windows devices. There’s no web interface, so you’ll have to use the apps, but it is great at keeping your recipes neatly organized and collected. Importing recipes from the web is easy enough, you just need the URL of the recipe you want to add. Paprika’s focus is on recipe management, but it also includes smart grocery lists and a menu planner that lets you add recipes to your plan, rate them once you’ve prepared them, and generate a grocery list for the week based on the things you want to make. Paprika will also help you when you’re in the kitchen, walking you through each recipe step by step, complete with cooking timers and notifications when it’s time to move on to the next step. If you like a little bit of form with your function, it’s worth a look—the only downside, beyond the fact there’s no web support, is the price. The OS X app is $20, and each of the mobile apps (including separate apps for iPhone and iPad; it’s not universal) are $5. You’ll have to buy a copy for every device you want to use Paprika on.
Paprika’s nominations thread was full of stories about its ease of use, especially compared to other apps, and its tablet-friendliness, especially on the iPad, Kindle, and Nook. Its smart grocery list feature will combine ingredients needed for multiple recipes, so you don’t have a grocery list that has “2 egg” in one place and “1 egg” in another—you’ll just have “3 eggs,” so you’ll know whether to pick up a dozen or a half-dozen, or whatever you actually need. You can read more in its nominations thread here.
Now that you’ve seen the top five, it’s time to put them to a vote and determine the community favorite:
No honorable mentions this week, as the votes fell off pretty quickly from these five, but there are plenty of other options in the call for contenders thread if you’re looking for alternatives. Want to make the case for your personal favorite, even if it wasn’t included in the list? Remember, the top five are based on your most popular nominations from the call for contenders thread from earlier in the week. Don’t just complain about the top five, let us know what your preferred alternative is—and make your case for it—in the discussions below.
The Hive Five is based on reader nominations. As with most Hive Five posts, if your favorite was left out, it didn’t get the nominations required in the call for contenders post to make the top five. We understand it’s a bit of a popularity contest. Have a suggestion for the Hive Five? Send us an email at [email protected]!
Photo by eiko.
Trying to keep our kids and families healthy has become more and more of a challenge. The mixed messages we receive from big businesses promoting their products leave us confused, stressed and probably a little discouraged. Is it possible to buy the right products, cook clean ingredients and deliver a strong, healthy adult into the world after 18 years? Check out the five apps below if you are looking for a little help – they are my personal top choices. I use them all daily to help maintain my sanity and pantry.
MEAL SNAP – CALORIE COUNTING MAGIC
One of my all time favorite apps, you can simply take a photo of your meal and Meal Snap will let you know what exactly is in it as well as a rough calorie count. Pretty fantastic! Although I think it is important to note that we shouldn’t emphasize caloric intake to our children. This app is super valuable for kiddos who need to put on a little extra weight or cut back slightly on specific food groups (fat, sugar etc).
BLOOD SUGAR TRACKER (BY HEALTHYCLOUD.COM)
Any parent living with a diabetic child knows all to well the dangers of surges and plunges of their little one’s blood sugar level. One of the simplest apps to use, you can track blood sugar levels over a day, week or even months. There is even an option to enter your target blood level and it offers guidance throughout the day.
SHOPWELL – HEALTHY DIET & GROCERY FOOD SCANNER
With your smartphone’s built in camera, you can take pictures of the UPC barcode of any product either at the grocery store or at home. B’ased on your family profile and diet, ShopWell will tell you if the item is a good or bad choice for your family. Pretty amazing, right?
Fooducate won first place in the U.S. Surgeon Generals “Healthy App Challenge.” This amazing app tells parents exactly what the processed foods they purchase for their children contain. Just like ShopWell, with a quick UPC barcode scan, you can figure out how healthy (or unhealthy) your grocery list is and modify as needed to avoid surplus sugars, dyes, additives and preservatives.
It’s certainly easy to keep track of food intake in home or by packing our children’s lunch for school, but when it comes to eating out at restaurants we don’t really know what we are eating. Eating at home 100% of the time is not a fun way to live, but the more you know the better your experience will be. With over 250 restaurants in their app with detailed breakdowns of their menus, you can be certain what you should and should not order (for both you and your wee ones).
5 A DAY
Thanks to many public health campaigns, we all know we should have five servings of fresh fruits and vegetables every day. However, even the most diligent of health-aware moms (ahem, me!) can sometimes lose track. For only $0.99 this app supplies you with loads of recipes packed with healthy, fresh fruits and veggies. Say goodbye to mealtime madness!
EIGHT GLASSES A DAY
Staying hydrated is something we can all do a better job of. Busy moms and kiddos are always on the go between school, activities and play dates. We often forget to drink enough H20. This app takes the thought process out of drinking enough water just like 5 A Day does for fruits and veggies. You can even involve the kiddos with this app: they can tap a glass in the app each time they finish a serving of water to make it disappear.
SERIOUS NUTRITON TRACKER
Imagine being able to keep track of your child’s caloric intake, estimated energy, protein, individual nutrients and even fluids? Sounds impossible, but for $2.99 you can with the Serious Nutrition Tracker. This app is technically geared toward gym rats and nutritional buffs so there are some aspects that a parent will not need for their children, but the extensive aspects of the app make the price tag well worth it.
Cheers to growing a healthy family!
Something else that can come in handy, believe it or not, is technology — particularly apps for mobile devices that help kids learn about food groups, nutrition facts, and cooking methods, and healthy food choices through fun games and tools.
In a recent review done for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the following five apps were identified as fun, useful, kid-friendly tools for learning about the value of food as fuel for the body.
Healthy Heroes 1 & 2: Nutrition for Kids
This game helps kids recognize healthy foods, and the value of healthy eating habits. Kids play the part of Healthy Heroes and attempt to save the city of Yogopolis from Hungry Monsters. By fending off the Hungry Monsters with fruits and vegetables, children can learn what foods fit into these nutrition-packed food groups.
Eat and Move-O-Matic
This app helps kids understand that food provides energy through calories, and compares the number of calories eaten with the activity required to use that energy. Examples of activities include dancing and running, and sedentary pursuits such as reading and doing homework. This app also provides healthy alternatives for high-calorie snacks and meals.
A component of food preparation that isn’t often introduced to young people is the importance of food safety. This app does it very well by teaching food safety within the context of creating a safe picnic. Kids learn the importance of washing their hands before handling food, using a thermometer to monitor food temperatures, maintaining clean preparation surfaces, and keeping perishable foods at safe temperatures.
Smash Your Food
If you’re interested in your child learning about the sugar, salt, and fat content of certain foods, look no further than this fun app that invites kids to “smash” various foods and beverages such as pizza and soda. Kids also learn about the recommended daily limits for these items.
Veggie Circus Farm
An app for children as young as two years old, Veggie Circus Farm helps children recognize all different types of vegetables and their nutrition benefits, and increases literacy skills at the same time.
Admittedly I’m not much of an app person, but I enjoyed giving these a try, and they certainly offer benefits in reinforcing messages about healthy eating. Of course, there’s nothing like the “real deal” when it comes to learning about food and nutrition, and their influence on health and well-being. Preparing a snack with your child and then enjoying it together is, as they say, “priceless.”
Anne Marie Kuchera, our Kids Plus Nutrition Consultant, is a Licensed Professional Counselor and Registered Dietitian.
10 Best Health & Nutrition Education Apps for Kids
Most parents today exercise some effort to limit the time that their children spend on internet enabled devices. Regardless these valiant efforts it is a fact that kids are connected and online more than ever before, with tools such as iPads being integrated into their school curriculum as a learning device. Embracing technology at the right place, time, and under parental guidance can be a very effective way to deliver valuable information to children. This is especially true when it comes to guiding them towards a healthier lifestyle. This week the Plant A Seed & See What Grows foundation is providing a few downloadable recommendations of mobile (smartphone, tablet) applications. These apps will not only walk your child through the steps towards better nutrition and exercise, they will entertain them in the process – a great way to motivate them into learning!
Ten Mobile Apps for Kids That Will Help Them Learn About and Appreciate a Healthier Lifestyle
1. Smash Your Food
What better way to engage your kids than by appealing to their most basic instinct to smash something? Factor in the fact that this app first teaches them about nutrition, slating the food candidates for destruction based upon excessive sugars, salts, and oils and you’ve got a winner. This app encourages children to read the nutrition labels of foodstuffs and make informed decisions to eradicate the unhealthy items from their virtual diet by pulling the smash lever for an extremely satisfying and gooey conclusion. (Food an’ Me – $2.99 iTunes)
2. Awesome Eats
This healthy-eating app pulls fun straight from the garden, teaching kids about the benefits of a colorful diet of fruits and vegetables, including recycling tips at the conclusion of each “meal”. However your kids don’t have to pack a penchant for gardening to have a blast while tapping away on this app. With over 60 progressively challenging levels, 70 plus characters, and hoards of garden-thieving birds to shoo away your kids will be enthralled while learning all about nutrition on the side. (Whole Kids Foundation – FREE iTunes)
3. Nicholas’ Garden
This app takes nutrition one step further by not only teaching kids about basic nutrition, but also about cooking processes AND shopping. A big part of navigating the world we live in while making healthy choices involves consumerism. This application lightly touches on the concept in an engaging manner so that children can make healthier, more informed choices themselves about food in their day to day. Beware, your kid will keep an eye on you when putting items in the shopping cart at the grocery store after a few games on Nicholas’ Garden. (AppMatrix – FREE iTunes/Android)
The apt name let’s you know what this one is all about. This basic yet fun app developed for the Youth Voice: Youth Choice program in the U.S. simply takes foods commonly consumed by kids, provides the nutrition label breakdown, then recommends a fun physical activity w/time duration to burn off those calories. This application really takes the association between nutrition and exercise and puts it into a context kids can understand. (Learning Games Lab – FREE iTunes)
Kids get started with mobile apps because they see us as grown-ups doing it. They don’t always need the colorful bells and whistles to get engaged, preferring to feel more grown-up themselves when using an app. This is where Fooducate comes in. This app was designed for a more advanced audience but many older (6+) children enjoy using it because of the QR code scanning technology. Put your child in charge on your next visit to the grocery store by having them scan the barcodes of labelled food items. The app delivers a truer accounting of the nutritional breakdown of the goods, including healthier alternative recommendations. Your kids will absolutely feel empowered when armed with the Fooducate app. (Fooducate, Ltd – FREE iTunes/Android)
Make physical activity even more fun for your kids with the FitnessKids app. FitnessKids animates 25 different exercises ranging between sports day classics such as the crab-walk and wheelbarrow to the challenges of a kazachok dance-off. Kids can play solo or with friends/siblings in “joust” mode. (Sanse Boulevard SL – $2.99 iTunes)
7. Gro Garden
Gro Garden creates an online atmosphere where kids can learn all about sustainable farming and gardening in very entertaining manner. Players feed Connie the Compost, the star of the show, and her mico-organism buddies. After feeding kids get to witness Connie and company produce fruitful soil which allows bountiful crops to grow faster, more nutritious, and tastier. The seed-to-table concept is at play as kids get to treat animals residing within the Gro Garden cottage with a nutritious meal of organic vegetables. Children are rewarded for their efforts as they progress through the game with virtual goodies and badges, instilling a strong sense of pride in their efforts. (Gro Play – $2.99 iTunes)
Kids love this app which allows them to help protagonist Captain Mapp navigate a challenging series of puzzled mazes. However this is no fingertip controlled application. Young players need to get up off of the sofa to briskly walk, jog, and go through a series of movements to complete each game. Fun with the side-effect of physical activity. (DigiDo Interactive Inc – FREE iTunes)
9. NFL Play 60
While us grown-ups may sit around the tube during NFL/CFL season games there is no reason for your restless kids to be stuck doing the same. Let them enjoy the pastime concept while getting fit for the field themselves by participating in the NFL Play 60 app. Developed by the American Heart Association this app (recommended for ages 9-11) has players running, jumping, and dodging to collect coins and power-ups. Boys and girls alike are enjoying this NFL season inspired game that keeps them active 365 days a year. (American Heart Association – FREE iTunes/Android)
10. Discover Your Body
As your child uses a combination of any of the above apps they will consistently be given tidbits of information about how nutrition and exercise impacts their body. It simply makes good sense then, that they better understand the inner-workings of their own physical vessel. This is where the popular Discover Your Body app comes into play. This thorough application creates an interactive learning environment where youth learn about their muscles, skeleton, circulatory system, brain development, and more. It also addresses exercise to strengthen the core and the concept of nutrition as fuel. Discover Your Body serves as a perfect conclusion to a series of mobile applications that will put your kids on a path towards a healthier lifestyle. (ClearVision – $2.99 iTunes)
10 nutrition and diet apps for 2019
The smartphone in your pocket is a miracle of modern science. Its processing power is millions of times greater than that of the machines NASA used for the Moon landings, and it connects you to a worldwide network of over 3 billion people. Today’s best diet apps leverage the power of your smartphone to help you take control of your nutrition and health through better eating. We tested 10 of the most popular weight loss app choices for Android and iPhone (iOS). Here’s a breakdown of those choices, and a look at their pros and cons. While a few of the diet apps in this list are calorie counters and food diaries with added bells and whistles, we’ve made sure to include innovative and unique options as well.
Remember that the true measure of an app’s worth is if it helps you to make healthy changes. If an app doesn’t motivate you to improve your diet, it’s not much more than a time-waster.
Nutrition & diet apps for Android & iPhone
The star ratings listed in this article are based on user reviews, and not our own opinions. Note that we’ve rounded the ratings to the nearest half-star.
Android: free, 4 stars
iOS: free | 4.5 stars
Americans tend to eat out a lot, and at restaurants and take-out joints people often give themselves a “hall pass” from healthy eating. This can results in a reversal of hard fought gains from good eating habits.
But eating out doesn’t have to be a guilty pleasure. Many restaurants offer healthy options that align with even the strictest eating plans. HealthyOut helps you find them. It provides access to menus of local restaurants, and matches items on their menu to your dietary needs and preferences.
The app is feature rich and has a large database of restaurants. That said, its database of restaurants and menus isn’t quite as comprehensive as one might hope. For instance, Starbucks is conspicuously absent from the app.
2. Calorie Counter & Food Diary
Android: free (full functionality unlocked with subscription) | Rating: 4 stars
iOS: free (full functionality unlocked with subscription) | Rating 4.5 stars
Calorie Counter & Food Diary by MyNetDiary is one of several popular food diary apps. To get the most out of the tool, enter your nutritional goals or weight loss goals, and use features within the app to plan your meals and monitor your adherence. Useful features include the ability to scan supermarket barcodes to get nutritional information that helps you make smart choices while grocery shopping, and the tracking of macronutrients such as carbohydrates, protein, and fat. In fact, you can track your intake of 45 separate nutrients.
What makes this app stand apart is an elegant user interface that makes entering your food intake fast and easy. This is important because people are bound to abandon a food diary app when it becomes too troublesome to use. This app also lets you track your fitness regimen, and is compatible with fitness trackers like FitBit.
For some users, cost can be a concern, because full functionality is not unlocked without an annual subscription of $40 per month.
3. Food Intolerances
Android: $4.99 | 4 stars
iOS:$5.99 | 4 stars
Food Intolerances is focused on aiding people with allergies and food insensitivities. It’s targeted at people with conditions such as histamine intolerance, mastocytosis, fructose malabsorption, sorbitol intolerance, gluten sensitivity, and lactose intolerance. The app contains a database of hundreds of foods, and will tell you whether a particular food is compatible with your allergies or food sensitivities.
One of the app’s faults is that it doesn’t contain databases of particular products, but rather broad categories of foods. For instance, it doesn’t distinguish between Kraft’s macaroni and cheese and Annie’s brand macaroni and cheese. We also noticed that the iOS version of the app is more feature rich than the Android version.
iOS: free (full functionality requires upgrade to premium version) | 4.5 stars
Strictly speaking, water isn’t a nutrient or a food, but proper hydration is essential to your wellbeing. Waterlogged helps you make sure you’re getting enough water by allowing you to take pictures of your drinking vessels to quickly and automatically log your water intake. The app also allows you to set up reminders to drink fluids, and can help you quickly assess your hydration with handy graphs.
Weaknesses include the fact that some features require an upgrade to a premium version, and also the fact that the app is only available for iOS right now. A similar app for Android with the same basis is WaterLog.
iOS: $4.99 | 4 stars
Another popular nutrients database and diet tracker is Nutrients. Nutrients contains the nutritional info for a wide range of foods and a food journal which makes tracking your food intake simple. One favorite feature is the ability to enter your recipes, and get an instant nutritional breakdown.
One deficiency as of this writing is lack of availability on Android. Some reviewers have also complained that the nutritional browser lacks some foods, although we didn’t encounter any notable absences in our testing.
Android: free | 3.5 stars
iOS: free | 4.5 stars
Shopwell is a standout app that helps you make healthy choices at the grocery store. Enter your fitness goals, nutritional requirements and foot sensitivities when you setup the app. Then, as you shop, you can scan the bar-codes of items you’re considering for information about the nutritional content, added sugar and sodium, and more. You can also take photo of your receipt or store loyalty/rewards card for a full analysis of all the food you’ve purchased and how well it aligns with your nutritional goals.
One drawback is that while most major grocery stores do participate, some favorites, like Trader Joe’s are absent.
7. Calorie Counter & Diet Tracker by MyFitnessPal
Android: free (full functionality unlocked with subscription) | 4.5 stars
iOS: free (full functionality unlocked with subscription) | 4.5 stars
Calorie Counter & Diet Tracker by MyFitnessPal is oriented toward weight loss, and is one of the more popular apps for tracking your food intake. It’s got a database of 5,000,000 foods and dishes you can use to quickly log your meals, and the user interface is simple and intuitive. One disadvantage is that some of the most useful features require a subscription of $10 per month or $50 per year.
8. MyPlate Calories Tracker
Android: free (full functionality unlocked with subscription) | 4.5 stars
iOS: free (full functionality unlocked with subscription) | 4.5 stars
MyPlate Calories Tracker is full-featured subscription-based diet app. It contains a nutritional database of 2 million items, and includes the ability to track calories, macronutrients and water intake, and see if you’re meeting your diet goals. You can also generate graphs and charts that help you to visualize and assess your food habits.
While their nutritional database is large, it’s not as comprehensive as the aforementioned app MyFitnessPal’s Calorie Counter & Diet Tracker. And unlike MyNetDiary’s Calorie Counter & Food Diary, you cannot track exercise. Like both those tools, full functionality requires a subscription ($9.99 per month or $44.99 per year).
9. Fitocracy Macros
iOS: free | Rating: 3.5 stars
Macronutrients include carbohydrates, proteins, and fat. Many nutritionists recommend that health-conscious individuals aim for a healthy diet with the right ratio of these “macros”. Fitocracy Macros allows you to track your input of these macronutrients in addition to your caloric intake. While tracking of macronutrients is a feature in some of the other apps we looked at, in this app they are the focus.
One drawback is that you need to check the macronutrients content of your meals and enter these figures manually. Another is that the app is currently only available for iOS. Android apps with similar functionality include Simple Macro and Calorie Counter – Macros.
10. Carbs Control
Android: $2.99 | 3.5 stars
iOS: $2.99 | 3.5 stars
As its name suggest, Carbs Control is designed to help you monitor your carbohydrates, and may be a good choice for diabetics or those on low-carb diets. You can track daily carb intake, as well as look at a meal-by-meal breakdown. As you look up the carbs totals of the food you eat, a food diary is created automatically. Its database of 100,000 foods is not as large as some of the subscription nutrition apps we described. But for a single payment of $2.99, it’s considerably less expensive.
Carbs Control may be a good food diary choice for those who don’t need all the features of costlier subscription apps, or for those who are especially focused on carbs and aren’t as concerned about monitoring other nutrients.
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The most important part of your fitness routine is your diet. While exercise is a key building block to earning the body that you want, what you eat is the foundation all of your hard work is built on. And nothing throws off a carefully-managed meal prep plan than eating out. Restaurants are notorious for offering dishes that can make up the majority of your daily recommended calories. Practicing portion control can alleviate this problem, but what happens when you don’t know exactly what you’re getting? A description in a menu can only tell you so much. With a new app called KabaQ, we could see exactly what we’re getting without having to order it.
What You See is What You Get
In the 1960s, a dinner plate measured 9 inches in diameter on average. Today, the average is closer to 11 or 12 inches. A good number of us are raised to clear our plates, but bigger plates means there are more calories to consume. Because we wouldn’t want the food to go to waste, we eat it all. Since more food can be piled onto bigger plates, we just end up eating more. Thanks to the combination of these circumstances, we often underestimate just how much we’re eating. This is where KabaQ can help us be more mindful of portion sizes and control how much we eat.
KabaQ utilizes scanning technology to create 3D models of a restaurant’s entire menu. The app allows restaurant guests to view these models through a smart device, either their own or one belonging to the venue. Guests can choose a dish at their leisure, which is then displayed to scale on the guest’s table with a 360 degree view all around. This not only ensures that the guest will know exactly what they’re getting, but also how much food they’re going to get. It will encourage restaurant-goers to either look for more manageable options, or to ask for a to-go box right at the outset of the meal. This isn’t the only way KabaQ will be helping the diet-conscious consumer.
Information at a Glance
Unless you’ve already made a habit of making entries in a calorie notebook, then you might not be able to make educated guesses about your calorie intake from meal to meal. For the rest of us, it can be surprising just how many calories our food provides us with these days. KabaQ takes advantage of its technology and doesn’t limit itself to being just a 3D gallery.
Knowing that the slice of cake is going to be about the size of your fist is a good way to eyeball your portion size, but portion control needs more than that to be effective. How many calories will the meal be? What does it do for you in terms of your macronutrients? In this regard, KabaQ helps trees as much as waistlines. There are dedicated fields within the app where the food vendor can enter a particular dish’s nutritional information. On top of that, the vendor will also be able to enter in any allergens the food may have. This, combined with the visual showcase the app already provides, encourages restaurant guests to have a more mindful in-restaurant experience.
Portion Control and More Healthy Choices
Alper Guler, the man behind KabaQ, is contributing to the fitness world beyond helping restaurant patrons practice good portion control. Obesity is undeniably a prevalent issue in America, and Guler is working to hit it where it starts: childhood. He is working on a Kickstarter with the Eradicate Childhood Obesity Foundation. Their goal is to launch an app called SugAR Poke, which would display the total teaspoons of added sugar for consumer products. All the shopper would have to do is hold their smart device up to the product in question and an AR display will show the measurement for the entire product as opposed to serving size. The app is in beta right now. It only contains the information for a number of salad dressings commonly sold in American supermarkets. If the Kickstarter is successful, then SugAR Poke will expand to hold the information for the entire processed food section.
KabaQ is currently working with David Burke’s Tavern62, Rue B, and Dutch Boy Burger. These are all restaurants located in New York. Guler hopes that more restaurants will turn to KabaQ for its client-serving applications.
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MakeMyPlate Diet Meal Planner
Your diet app is now a no brainer with Make My Plate, the visual diet meal planner. Choose your complete meal plan to meet your diet goals, and we’ll be your personal diet assistant for an healthy eating. We automatically present you with thousands of diet meals including your favorite foods when eat out, an automatic grocery list, and community support to keep you motivated.
• 3 FREE Visual diet meal plans that meet your needs, created by top RD’s & nutritionists, including recipes.
• No more portion size guessing, using our visual plate portion control system you get to eat the exact portions of your meal.
• All meals are balanced and contain complete nutritional info including nutrients, macros, and calorie calculations.
• Combine your favorite eat out food chain or genre within your diet meal plan using our eat out meal planner, including approved by RD’s eat out meals on menu.
• An automatic grocery list that is created from your meal plan and can be configured manually.
• Get a realtime support and professional guidance you need from our 24/7 live community chat that is managed by a professional nutritionist.
• Don’t like our suggestions? Easily swap them out or replace one of the dishes within your meal to only eat foods you like.
• Set your reminders and motivational tips to keep you on track and build new healthy habits.
Professional PRO diet meal plans to choose from including:
• The low carb diet Plan also known as the popular Ultimate NY Diet.
• The Red Carpet Diet, also known as The Celebrity Diet.
• A complete Vegan meal plan.
• The ultra Gluten Free & celiac meal plan.
• The ultimate Paleo diet meal plan.
Food diaries & calorie counters are out. Take the guessing out of what is good for your nutrition targets and meal plan a head to reach your weight goals. Using our visual diet meal planner, there’s no more guessing. All you have to do is stick to your plan, we’ve got you covered.
Our free diet meal plans give our users a complete solution to manage their weight throughout calorie restriction and offer all features above. As a premium user we provide the MakeMyPlate total experience for special diet needs of users who seek to boost their health, weight loss journey or maintain specific diet guidelines.
Try out our free meal plans to see if the MakeMyPlate new way of diet appeals to you, and upgrade to a PRO meal plan when you’re ready to boost up your diet goals.
Most diets fall into one of two categories—they either claim to unlock a previously misunderstood secret of nutrition science that will lead to effortless weight loss (see: Keto, Atkins); or they promise an innovative way to change your thinking around food that will lead to effortless weight loss (see: Noom, intermittent fasting).
The reality is that although there are certain habits most doctors and nutritionists would encourage for good health—eating more fruits and vegetables, exercising regularly, getting enough sleep—there is no one weight-loss system that works for everyone (and certainly not an “effortless” one). Increasingly, the consensus is that dieting, on the whole, doesn’t work, and that body size is not necessarily a good metric for health.
Despite that, the diet industry—with its books, apps, programs, packaged foods, and supplements—was worth an estimated $66 billion in 2018. The enduring popularity of diets speaks to our deep confusion around body size, health, and food.
Even as I wrote this story in a café, I overhead a woman confidently recommend that her dining companion dust her coffee with cinnamon to “help control your blood sugar.” (There’s no evidence the spice has this effect.) And indeed, so much of modern diet culture is based around this sort of “one weird trick” thinking: Just cut out all carbs, or don’t eat fruit, or practice mindfulness at mealtime, or fast two days a week, and you’ll crack the code of weight loss.
Into this crowded marketplace has come a new weight-loss strategy that has been gaining attention, and doesn’t sound at all like a weird trick or a new fad. In fact, it sounds like something your grandmother would have sworn by to keep her figure: portion control.
As a weight-loss strategy, portion control has obvious appeal—it’s simple and doesn’t rely on new theories of biology. And it feels like common sense: Smaller portions mean fewer calories. But it also reveals just how much about weight loss and nutrition we don’t actually grasp, and how seemingly helpful information, like the portion sizes on food labels, can deepen that confusion.
Instead of drastically limiting the foods you’re “allowed” to eat (like the Whole30, Keto, or Paleo diets), portion control doesn’t usually ban foods. Neither WW nor Noom, weight-loss programs that have participants track and count their intake, tell you precisely what to eat. Instead they set limits on how much, in the form of a number of “points” or calories, you can consume on a daily basis.
In the community that has grown up around WW (a rebrand of the company formerly known as Weight Watchers, with the tagline “Wellness that works”), there are hundreds of articles, blog posts and Pinterest pins dedicated to outlining ways to eat without racking up points. Points aren’t directly equivalent to calories, but the message is clear—the less food you eat, the better.
Of course, that’s not always true. Despite the often-cited maxim that weight loss is as simple as burning more calories than you consume, a growing body of research suggests that weight loss is far more complex, and that the nutritional information on food labels isn’t as clear cut as it might seem. “The more we probe, the more we realise that tallying calories will do little to help us control our weight or even maintain a healthy diet,” the Economist reported recently. “The beguiling simplicity of counting calories in and calories out is dangerously flawed.”
Calories represent stored energy, and are calculated based on the amount of heat produced when a food is burned. The human digestive system though, involves many more variables than an oven. In the US, it’s legal for calorie counts on packaging to be off by up to 20 percent, the Economist explained. What’s more, even when the count is accurate, different bodies process calories in different ways. “The calorie as a scientific measurement is not in dispute,” the Economist reported. “But calculating the exact calorific content of food is far harder than the confidently precise numbers displayed on food packets suggest.”
Nutritionists who embrace an “intuitive” approach to eating (another growing trend, but one that pointedly eschews food rules and diet products and doesn’t promote or promise weight loss), say that the emphasis on the amount of food we eat—all that weighing of pasta portions, and doling out of tablespoons of hummus—undermines our internal system of satiety and appetite, which should tell us when to eat and when to stop eating.
“It reinforces the messages that we see in diet culture, which is you cannot trust your body to tell you what, when, and how much to eat,” Dr. Laura Thomas, a registered nutritionist in the UK, and author of Just Eat It told me over the phone. “Therefore you need rules, you need restrictions in place. You need these guidelines. And again, it’s undermining that trust that we have in our bodies to self-regulate.”
Portion size matters
The guru of portion control is Dr. Lisa Young, a registered dietitian and adjunct professor of nutrition at New York University whose outrage about growing portion size has become her personal brand.
Young came to prominence as the researcher in the documentary Super Size Me who points out how much larger typical portion sizes have gotten in restaurants over time. In that seminal film, she highlights how the smallest order of fries on the menu at many fast food restaurants used to be the only size available, and points out that the largest soda cups at many convenience stores clock in at a full half-gallon of sugary liquid.
These giant portions warp our perception of how much we should eat, she argues in a new book, Finally Full, Finally Slim. And our actual dinnerware has gotten bigger over time as well, she says. “We get used to these big portions, and plates have gotten bigger,” she said in a phone call. “They’re not the same size as our grandmother’s stuff.”
Young, like many others in nutritional science, is a critic of fad diets. “It’s really not that complicated,” she says of maintaining a healthy diet. “Fads come and go and we want to jump on it. Like whether it’s celery juice, whether it’s kale, whether it’s cauliflower, there’s no miracle diet and there’s no miracle ingredient—period.” She maintains that eating from smaller plates—using a salad plate or pulling your grandparents’ china out of the cabinet—and filling it half full of vegetables is a solid starting place for a healthy diet, and potentially for weight loss as well.
“Portion control is a lifestyle issue,” she said. “And it doesn’t mean you have to eat tiny portions.”
Thomas agreed that super-sized restaurant meals have the power to distort our thinking around how much food we need. But the portion control movement is just more of the same, she argues. Both interfere with our internal cues about how much we need to eat, which may fluctuate on a daily basis. And portion control’s sharp focus on the amount of food being consumed, Thomas added, could contribute to disordered eating patterns.
The problem with food labels
A central, and problematic, aspect of portion control is the nutrition labels on packaged food. As it becomes increasingly clear that individual bodies use calories in different ways, it’s also becoming clear that the food labels we rely upon to tell us how many calories we’re eating are far from the precise measure we have assumed they are. The Economist found that calorie counts on labels were off by an average of 8 percent, and that frozen foods can understate calorie content by up to 70 percent.
The way portion sizes are calculated for labels is also impossibly confusing. In 2018, the US Food and Drug Administration unveiled new food labeling requirements, including updated (larger) portion sizes. Many consumers believe these portions to be suggested serving sizes, which they are not. As the FDA explains:
By law, serving sizes must be based on amounts of foods and beverages that people are actually eating, not what they should be eating. How much people eat and drink has changed since the previous serving size requirements were published in 1993. For example, the reference amount used to set a serving of ice cream was previously 1/2 cup but is changing to 2/3 cup. The reference amount used to set a serving of soda is changing from 8 ounces to 12 ounces.
Young argues that the serving sizes on labels are problematic because they suggest that the government is saying that these foods, in these amounts are healthy—that 12 ounces of soda is a good choice because it’s the proper amount of soda. “People think it’s what the government is recommending,” Young says. She also notes that because those servings are based on self-reported surveys, they’re not accurate: “People don’t have two-thirds of a cup of ice cream. They have more like a cup-and-a-half.”
All this emphasis on the measurements echoes diet culture’s insistence that your body cannot be trusted, that you must rely on an external authority when it comes to how much food to consume. A label doesn’t know that you’re extra hungry because you missed lunch, or that a spoonful of ice cream standing by the freezer is all that you crave, not a whole scoop. And even if it’s not the intent, most consumers read portion sizes on nutrition labels as an indication that unless you’re eating that specific amount, you’re doing it wrong.
A way to deflect blame
Another problem with portion control is the movement can be co-opted to deflect the pressure on food companies to mass-produce healthier foods.
The National Consumer League is leading a campaign to emphasize portion size in the next set of dietary guidelines, which the US Department of Agriculture adjusts every five years and is slated for an update in 2020. In February the NCL sent a letter to the USDA, co-signed by several of big food’s industry groups—the American Frozen Food Institute, American Beverage Association, Grocery Manufacturers Association, National Confectioners Association, Sugar Association, and the Sustainable Food Policy Alliance. “One promising, and we think underutilized, strategy for tackling the obesity epidemic is helping consumers understand and implement appropriate portion control,” it wrote.
This message is problematic for eaters, both Thomas and Young agree, because it says that it’s how much food we eat, not the types of foods we choose, that have the greatest impact on our health. Young noted that placing responsibility, in the form of portion size, onto the consumer makes it seem like all foods are equally nutritious so long as we eat the “right” amount. She said that just because a snack comes in a small portion, like a 100-calorie package of chips, that doesn’t mean it’s a good choice nutritionally speaking.
By the same token, it may be perfectly fine to eat more than one portion of a food, depending on what that food is and your nutritional needs. “A portion size depends on your hunger and satiety cues,” says Thomas. “It doesn’t depend on these arbitrary labels.” She gave the example of a client who found herself confronted with a tub of hummus with a label saying it contained four servings. “She ate half the tub of hummus and she ended up feeling really guilty,” Thomas says. “She was basically self flagellating about eating half of a pot of hummus—and it’s fucking crushed chickpeas!”
Most of us spend our days surrounded by food we don’t actually need for survival, and spend our lives in bodies that look different than what has been held up as ideal. Portion control pits us against ourselves by making external rules—plate size, numbers on a label—the arbiter of our appetites rather than our actual hunger. It also denies that humans sometimes eat for reasons that have nothing to do with fueling our bodies, that pleasure is a legitimate thing to expect from food.
A healthy relationship with food, Thomas says, requires a person to “understand what your body is asking for and respond to that… Both in terms of your hunger and fullness levels, but also things like pleasure and satisfaction.” There’s no easy way to measure that.