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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Nutrition? Exercise? There’s an app for that!
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By Eric Uthus

I have to admit it — I love gadgets. However, it wasn’t until about a month ago that I bought my first smart phone.

What is a smart phone? Basically, they are little computers that also can make phone calls. What make them so popular are the apps that these phones can run.

What are apps? They are applications — apps for short. Apps are really just small programs that can do a lot — including navigation, games, weather information, task managers, calendars, e-mail and web access, to name just a few.

The two types of smart phones that I am most familiar with are the iPhone from Apple and the Android-based phones from a number of phone makers. Apparently there are about 200,000 apps for the iPhone and 60,000 apps for the Androids.

Wait, isn’t this supposed to be a nutrition-oriented column? Well, as they say, “There’s an app for that.”

I did a quick search for nutrition apps that my phone (Android-based) could use. Needless to say, there were quite a few. Rather than talk about a number of them, I will focus on one — “Calorie Counter” by FatSecret. (A similar app on the iPhone is “Tap & Track.”)

This app, which is free, uses a “Quick Picks” for foods, restaurants and popular brands. For example, if you select “foods,” you will have access to 18 categories of foods ranging from salads to sweets and desserts. If you open any of these categories, you will get subcategories. For example, chicken breast is found under the meats main menu. If you then select chicken breast, you get various preparations of chicken breast, each showing serving size, calorie, fat, carbohydrate and protein information for this type of meat.

It also will give you more detailed nutrition information such as saturated fat, fiber and sugar content as well as percent of daily values for those and other nutrients in that particular meat. You then can add this item to your food diary.

Your food diary tracks total fat, carbohydrates, protein and calories (as broken down by breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks). The app also had “Barcode Scan” feature that scans barcodes from food packages to easily get nutrition information that can then be loaded into your food diary.

If you select “restaurants” under the Quick Pick menu, you will get most of the well-known restaurants chains and their menu items. Detailed information (similar to that listed above) is provided for each menu item. Once you select your item, you can add it to your food dairy and, if you are in an unfamiliar city, there is an option for using your phone’s GPS to find the nearest restaurant or supermarket location that has that item. You also can search for your food in the “popular brands” section. Again, you can add these foods to your food dairy to help plan and keep track of what you have eaten or will be eating.

The app also includes an exercise diary, which can add the types of exercises that you like to do. (You can even add those exercises that you don’t like to do but do anyway.) This exercise diary will then keep track of the calories that you burn. You also can keep a weight chart and a journal to record your progress. This app does very well with prepared (restaurant) meals and processed foods. One shortcoming is its ability to easily work with dishes that you prepare from scratch. Overall, it is helpful to those who want to keep track of daily intake of calories, fats, carbohydrates and protein as well as the exercise program that goes along with healthy eating. There are other apps that suggest and provide recipes for healthy meals, apps that list healthy foods and their benefits, and many more.

On the exercise side, there are apps that track your running, walking, cycling or even skiing. These apps use GPS to record speed, distance and altitude, and they even can show you on a map the route that you took.

The Mayo Clinic also has developed an app (Walk n’Play for the iPhone only) that encourages people to be more active. This app, which monitors your normal daily physical activity, encourages you to be more active by scoring you against a computer or friends or even people from other countries.

Common sense says that to keep from getting overweight — or to lose weight — you should eat healthy and exercise. That is not easy for many of us. Any assistance that a person can get to follow this advice is helpful. The use of smart phones and apps like these mentioned can help.

Last Modified: 7/8/2010