It’s 2014, and you know what that means—time to get off the couch that you’ve been glued to for the past week and start eating food with an expiration date.
Every year, millions of Americans make New Year’s resolutions to lose weight, get in shape, and be healthier. And every year, millions of Americans break these resolutions within six months. According to a Bodybuilding.com survey, two-thirds of adults in the U.S. have made a resolution to get fit, and a whopping 73 percent of those people gave up before they reached their goal.
The odds may be against you, but you can succeed—with the help of your smartphone. Apps are the perfect tool for dieters: They help you track progress, even when it seems like nothing is happening; and they motivate you to keep going with incentives such as achievements and friendly social competition. Whether you want to eat healthier, lose weight, or just learn about nutrition, these five apps will help you stay on track.
Let’s start with the basics. Just how much do you know about nutrition, anyway? Test your knowledge and learn some new facts with Nutrition Quiz, a free iOS app by fitness app developer Runtastic.
Nutrition Quiz offers short quizzes about health, fitness, and nutrition. Each quiz consists of 10 general questions (Fact or myth: Women’s noses can smell better?) chosen randomly from a database of over 600. The questions fall into eight categories, ranging from Functional Foods to Sugar & Spices. Quizzes are scored on timing and accuracy, and if you sign into your Runtastic account you can compare your score against friends and other users.
After each question, the app offers an explanation of the correct answer. You can favorite any facts that you find interesting, and share them on Facebook or Twitter. The app’s browse feature lets you look through the question/fact bank at your leisure. The first 64 questions across three categories are free, but you’ll need to unlock the $2 Pro version of the app to access the rest of the database.
Starting a diet is easy; staying on a diet is another story. Free for Android and iOS, My Diet Coach can help you stay motivated and on track with its personal cheerleader approach to dieting.
My Diet Coach is more about keeping you motivated than worrying about the nitty-gritty details of your actual diet and exercise plan. The app lets you set up automated text reminders to help keep you on track, such as “take my healthy snacks with me before I leave for work,” or “don’t eat five chocolate bars before bed.” The app also has a section for adding motivational photos (of yourself or of anything that inspires you to lose weight), a tips section for combating emotional eating and diet slip-ups, and daily challenges (such as drinking eight glasses of water) to help you stay healthy.
This app is a little cheesy, but don’t knock the power of little nudges throughout the day. My Diet Coach’s reminders will make you think twice about eating that extra cookie, and will help you remember to stop at the health food store on the way home from work. The free version of My Diet Coach has all the motivational tools, but if you want more functionality—such as the ability to log and track food and exercise—you can upgrade to the Pro version of the app for $4.
Food nutrition labels can be difficult to decipher, but it’s important to know what you’re putting in your body. That’s where Fooducate, a free app for Android and iOS, comes in. Fooducate—yes, that’s a mash-up of “food” and “educate”—is a food look-up service that helps you find and understand nutrition information in real life.
You can look up foods on Fooducate by product name or barcode number (the app has a convenient, built-in barcode scanner) and find the food’s nutrition info and Fooducate “grade.” The grade is based on a variety of factors, including the sugar, salt, and saturated fat content; whether it’s a good source of vitamins, minerals, or other essential nutrients; and whether it contains preservatives or artificial ingredients. Although it’s a bit simplistic, the grade is an easy way for busy people to quickly assess the nutritional value of the food.
Fooducate also has a health tracker for logging food, water, exercise, notes, and weight; daily health and nutrition tips; and the ability to set weight goals. If you want more functionality, such as carb-control, nutrient-tracking, and information about which foods are genetically modified, Fooducate also has a Pro version for $15 per year.
Fooducate is a useful app if you need a quick snapshot of a food’s general nutritional value, but ShopWell takes food look-up one step further. ShopWell is a free app that rates foods based on your personal profile, taking into account lifestyle choices, dietary needs, and allergies.
ShopWell asks you to first fill out a comprehensive nutrition profile, including which nutrients, minerals, and vitamins are important in your diet, as well as which nutritional pitfalls (such as artificial sweeteners or refined grains) you want to avoid. The app also asks which foods you’re allergic to or cannot otherwise tolerate. Then, the app takes this information and rates foods based on your information.
ShopWell gives each food a score from 1 to 100 (100 is the highest), and tells you whether the food is a strong match, a medium match, or a weak match for your profile. You can click on the score to find out why the food is a strong/medium/weak match—for example, Bridgford Beef Jerky is a weak match for me because it has lots of added sugar. ShopWell also shows nutrition information and ingredients for each food, as well as suggestions that are similar but “better” for you based on your ShopWell profile.
ShopWell is an excellent app for tracking specific aspects of your diet, such as nutrients or sugar intake, which is great for diabetics. The app lacks a built-in calorie-counter, but it does have some nifty extra features such as lists (add favorite foods to lists for future reference), popular foods (find foods that are popular with people who have similar profiles to yours), and missions and achievements to keep you motivated.
If you’re not sure where to start with your diet plan, Nutrino is the app for you. This free iOS app is like a personal nutritionist in your pocket. Nutrino is a food recommendation app that creates a custom, personalized daily menu for you based on your profile, preferences, and goals.
Like ShopWell, Nutrino needs some personal information to create your custom meal plan. The initial profile setup includes answering basic questions (gender, age, height, weight, general activity level) and setting goals such as target weight and diet intensity. Nutrino also asks how large you like each meal to be, how you like to prepare each meal, and whether you have any special restrictions, such as gluten-free or vegetarian.
Taking into account your profile, preferences, and nutritional goals, Nutrino creates a daily meal plan for you. The meal plans includes nutritional information, recipes, and a grocery list with all the necessary ingredients. If you don’t like a dish Nutrino has picked for you, just tap it and tap Change Dish to find a similarly healthy replacement . Swipe up to scroll through your meal plan, and swipe down to see a summary of your day, including protein, carb, fiber, and fat intake, as well as daily calories. Swipe to the left to see future days’ plans.
In one sense, Nutrino is more difficult to use than other diet apps, since its success banks on your ability to follow its meal plan to a T. On the other hand, if you’re willing to put in the legwork and you want an app that will do everything for you (including counting calories), Nutrino is worth a look.
Diet is just one piece of the puzzle
If you want to lose weight, eat healthier, or just learn about nutrition, these five apps can certainly help. But diet is just one aspect of getting in shape. If you really want to knock your New Year’s resolution (whatever that may be) out of the park, you should try coupling diet apps with fitness apps. Once you’ve got the healthy eating thing down, why not try mastering yoga or running a marathon?