Scott Thornton, August 16, 2012
In a recent episode of Macgasm TV, we took a look at a few fitness apps and tools for tracking runs and other physical activity. Now lets look at the other side of the fitness equation: diet.
The App Store is full of apps designed for tracking food and counting calorie intake. A quick search for “calorie counter” brought up 175+ iPhone apps looking to cash in on folks looking to iDiet.
It’s not surprising considering the popularity of approaches to dieting like The Hacker’s Diet‘s, where weight loss is drilled down to calories consumed vs. used. These diets aren’t over-complicated with restrictive diets or crazy exercise regimes that take you from zero to holy-crap-I’m-out-of-shape in two shakes of a lamb’s tail.
But where to start? Here’s a quick look at a few of the top rated calorie counters to get a feel for what’s out there, and what might work for you.
Free app: 5/5 (current version), 4.5/5 (all versions, 200K+ ratings)
Lose weight with MyFitnessPal, the fastest and easiest to use calorie counter. With the largest food database of any calorie counter (over 1.5 million foods), and amazingly fast food and exercise entry, we’ll help you take those extra pounds off! There is no better diet app – period.
With detailed nutritional details, right down to individual vitamins and tracking body measurements over time, MyFitnessPal goes beyond simply counting calories. Combined with helpful graphs and charts, the extra detail is helpful for digging deep into the details of your food and exercise habits.
Tracking meals is relatively simple to do, with plenty of fractions and serving size options to be precise about what’s going in your mouth. You can easily search a database of food items to record what you’re eating, or if you prefer, a built-in barcode scanner makes it easy to scan the labels, saving precious seconds. MyFitnessPal also makes it simple to add entire recipes with their composite ingredients to break down calories/servings for you. Handy, that — especially if you’re making a big batch of something or cooking for the family and need to figure out per-serving intake.
Synchronization between iPhone and iPad apps is as seamless as it gets, so tracking a meal from whatever device is handy is perfect. Another plus is the option for setting multiple reminders to track individual meals to keep you honest, or to mute notifications during set hours when you’d rather not be disturbed.
Now, with all the data and options MyFitnessPal packs in, it can be overcomplicated for the uninitiated. The home screen is very busy, and if you’re just looking to log in quickly to add a meal, it can be overwhelming. Also, with all the bells and whistles, it might be overkill if you’re just looking to count calories.
Free app: 4.5/5 (current version), 4.5/5 (all versions, 40+ ratings)
Paid app [$2.99]: 4.5/5 (current version), 3.5/5 (all versions, 4K+ ratings)
The LIVESTRONG.COM Calorie Tracker can help you reach your diet, weight loss and fitness goals by tracking your daily calories and exercise. Lose weight easily by setting your weight goals and track your calories and progress with our comprehensive online food journal containing over 1 Million food and fitness items. Tracking works.
The food database itself is pretty solid and easy to search. Lots of community added items, from recipes in popular cookbooks to prepackaged or restaurant items. While it doesn’t seem as deep as other apps, the additional verification/confirmation by LIVESTRONG adds a level of trust in many of the items in the database.
Additionally, the tie-in with the LIVESTRONG website and community is a nice touch, where you’ll find a ton of helpful articles related to fitness, exercise, nutrition and the like.
One pet peeve on the MyPlate’s tracking is the lack of an autocorrect in the search field. Typos and misspellings can lead to some frustration as the search results come up empty.
While MyPlate is a universal app, there’s no syncing between devices in the free version of the app. Even after taking the plunge on the paid version, the syncing was less than reliable. I’m not sure when or how often it syncs, but in many cases I found myself needing to force a manual sync when switching between devices. Additionally, the iPad app doesn’t really take advantage of the extra space well, feeling like a blown-up version of the iPhone app, and the paid version doesn’t introduce anything terribly exciting, leaving it feeling a bit shallow at the $2.99 price point.
MyNetDiary – Calorie Counter
Free app: 5/5 (current version), 3/5 (all versions, 2K+ ratings)
Paid app [$3.99]: 4.5/5 (current version), 4.5/5 (all versions, 1K+ ratings)
MyNetDiary is the fastest, easiest, and smartest iPhone calorie counter. The list of features is large – over 30 screens, including FREE barcode scanner. Most importantly – MyNetDiary is very easy to use.
This app is powered by a great 400,000 foods database, with magically fast food entry, searching as you type. Includes free web access. Works great offline without internet connection.
MyNetDiary boasts itself as one of the fastest and easiest to use calorie counters. To their credit, as it starts searching the food database as you type, you get results as fast as advertised. The search seems less restrictive too, so you’ll see more related items to choose from in your search results. Additionally, their water consumption tracking is very slick, making it a breeze to keep tabs on those 8 glasses a day.
MyNetDiary does a few other things to help stand out from the crowd, adding a barcode scanner, the ability to add before and after photos to your profile, and even giving you a daily analysis of your intake with notes on what’s working and what needs to improve about your food choices. Very cool and helpful features, all told.
But while they’re trying to break the mold, a couple of the more basic pieces just feel broken. There doesn’t seem to be any quantifiable descriptors in your search results (like portion size, number of calories, etc.), which makes it very hard to choose the right thing from the search results. Also, many items have seemingly fixed portion sizes/quantities and there aren’t any easy fraction scrollers like in the aforementioned apps to record accurate portion sizes.
The MyNetDiary app does some things incredibly well, and has a ton of interesting features to differentiate themselves, but the core food tracking doesn’t stack up to other apps.
The LIVESTRONG calorie counter makes it very easy to get in and just start tracking food input. Between the apps I’ve tried, it’s generally the quickest to be in-and-out after a meal, which is hugely important to help form a habit of taking notes.
However, the detailed breakdowns, graphs and ease of synching between devices really shines in MyFitnessPal. You really can do it all in MyFitnessPal, and it’s completely free.
For what it’s worth, I started my own iDiet journey really enjoying the LIVESTRONG app for how dead-simple it is, and I started to see success from it over time. If you’re worried about falling off the wagon, MyPlate can help you form the right habits. But as tracking intake and making better food decisions has become more habitual, I’m really digging the extra features, stats, and functionality of MyFitnessPal.
Have you tried these or other calorie-counters or fitness apps? Let us know in the comments what’s working for you. In the meantime, happy tracking.