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Harvard Commentaries
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Food for Thought Food for Thought
 

The Best Smartphone Apps to Stay Healthy


November 05, 2012

By Lauren Fowler, B.S., Dietetic Intern
Brigham and Women's Hospital

Smartphone use has grown tremendously over the past few years. Now, over half of American cell phone users have a smartphone. Along with the convenience of maps, e-mail and search engines, smartphones offer hundreds of free and paid "apps" for nutrition, fitness and overall health.

Below are seven of the best in these categories. They're free and ranked as tops by people who use them for:

  • Nutrition information
  • Calorie counting
  • Blood-sugar tracking
  • Healthy cooking ideas
  • Fitness

Nutrition Tracking Apps

MyFitnessPal

For: iPhone, Android, Blackberry, Windows phone, iPad

How it works: Enter basic information, such as your age, height, weight and activity level to determine your calorie needs. Set a goal to lose, maintain or gain weight. Log your foods and exercise to meet your goal.

Pros:

  • Sets goals for specific nutrients like trans fats
  • Has over 2 million foods in the database, including whole foods, packaged foods and restaurant foods
  • Allows you to enter your favorite recipes to easily track their calories
  • Motivates you with visual graphs to show weight loss

CalorieCount

For: iPhone, Android, Blackberry, iPad

How it works: Enter basic information to determine calorie needs. Log your foods or exercise to track your calories and nutrition.

Pros:

  • Logs foods by voice for ease
  • Over 220,000 foods and restaurant meals in the database
  • Barcode scanner allows you to look up nutrition facts labels and food grades
  • Diet analysis shows a graph with your percentage of calories from carbohydrates, fat and protein

Extras: Premium version ($9.99 per month) offers consultations with a registered dietitian

Diabetes App

Blood Sugar Tracker by healthycloud.com

For: iPhone

How it works: Log your blood sugar levels to track and control diabetes.

Pros:

  • Set target blood sugar ranges
  • Log blood sugars unlimited times during the day
  • Graph blood sugars over time, and export them into a file to save or print
  • Add notes to the blood sugars to write what you ate before a value or just to note if the blood sugar was too low, normal or too high

Grocery Shopping and Healthy Cooking Apps

Fooducate

For: iPhone, Android

How it works: Scan barcodes or search products at the grocery store or at home and receive an instant grade (A through F).

Pros:

  • Interprets the nutrition facts label for you
  • Assigns a grade based on specific food categories (cereal, yogurts, snacks, etc.), ingredients, processing and other factors
  • Shows you "things to know," such as products that are high in fiber, good sources of a vitamin or high in sugar
  • Offers alternative choices with higher grades to look for at the store

Extra: Two other apps available for the iPhone include Allergy and Gluten Free Scanner by Fooducate ($4.99) and Diabetes Nutrition by Fooducate (free)

Whole Foods Market Recipes

For: iPhone, iPad

How it works: Search for healthy recipes.

Pros:

  • Enter three ingredients you have on hand, and it searches recipes with those ingredients.
  • Search by category: budget; kid-friendly; quick and easy; special diets (gluten-free, dairy-free, vegan or vegetarian, high fiber, low-fat); course ( breakfast, lunch,dinner, appetizer); name; keywords
  • Automatically create a grocery list after finding a recipe
  • Add recipe favorites to use in the future
  • Find a Whole Foods store near you

Fitness

Gympact

Cost: Free if you meet your fitness pact

For: iPhone(Android coming soon)

How it works: Make a fitness "pact" to exercise 1 to 7 days per week. Earn money if you keep your pact, but you pay if you miss your pact

Pros:

  • Use the app to sign in to the gym, or use RunKeeper app for GPS tracking to get credit for walking, running, or biking.
  • Offers motivation to exercise by offering money as a reward
  • Change your pact to more or fewer days, or stop the pact whenever you would like
  • Get paid $0.50 to $1 for each day you keep your commitment

Things to Know: You need to enter a credit card, which will be charged if you do not keep your pact.

RunKeeper

For: iPhone, Android

How it works: Tracks your exercise by using a GPS system

Pros:

  • Track your walking, running and biking
  • View distance, time and pace
  • See progress over time by tracking your longest distance or fastest pace
  • Get motivation through audio coaching or training plans
  • Share your workouts with friends on Facebook or Twitter.
  • Works with Gympact to earn money for your workouts

Back to top

Lauren Fowler graduated from the University of Vermont with a Bachelor of Science in Dietetics, Nutrition, & Food Science. She is currently completing her dietetic internship at Brigham and Women's Hospital. She plans to become a registered dietitian.

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