Food journaling takes some of the guesswork out of healthy eating.
If you’re looking to lose some weight, logging all your calories can help you better understand if you’re consuming too much, or not burning enough calories, to meet your weight-loss goals.
Veronica Niedzinski, a registered dietitian with National Jewish Health in Denver, says that a lot of people probably “don’t actually realize” what they’re putting into their bodies on a daily basis. But if you take the time to track this information, that can “help you get a better understanding of what you’re actually eating and drinking every day.”
This can help you lose weight. “In simple terms, in order to lose weight, you need to be in a calorie deficit (burning more calories than you’re eating),” explains Ariella Davis Sameah, a dietitian at Sheba Medical Center in Israel.
“This seemingly simple equation will often lead people to start counting calories.” And tracking these calories over time can help you get better control over your weight-loss journey.
Top apps for calorie tracking for weight loss
While a simple notebook and pencil can do the trick for some people, there are now a wide variety of both free and paid apps on the market to help dieters keep track of their foods.
These seven free (or mostly free) nutrition tracking apps are among the best-known and most widely used.
Canadian company Cronometer’s free app allows you to log your meals and track up to 82 micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) along with all your macronutrients (fat, carbs and protein). You can also log your exercise, biometrics and favorite recipes. The app also includes a fasting timer for individuals who are using intermittent fasting as a weight-loss strategy. Cronometer syncs with various activity trackers including Fitbit, Strava and Garmin.
The company offers a free version of the app and a higher-tier gold account that removes advertisements and also provides additional features, such as long-term data charts and reports, custom biometrics, recipe-sharing and more. The company also offers a professional version designed for nutritionists, dietitians, schools, hospitals and research teams.
Cronometer’s key difference from other calorie-tracking apps lies in the robustness of the data it collects and supplies related to micronutrients. While many calorie-counting apps only track the number of calories, carbs, fats and proteins in foods and meals, Cronometer drills down in more detail on the many other vitamins and minerals that constitute the food you eat each day.
Calorie Counter by FatSecret
The Calorie Counter by FatSecret is 100% free and bills itself as the “fastest, easiest calorie-counting app.” It offers a community component that’s part forum and part social network that can help support your motivation to lose weight.
The app includes a food diary to keep track of what you eat, access to healthy recipes and nutritional information from all foods, brands and restaurants. It also includes an exercise diary so you can track calories burned, as well as a weight chart and journal where you can record your progress.
Lose It! was founded in 2008 to make calorie counting simpler. One of the first apps available in the app store, Lose It! has grown to contain a vast database of nutritional information for about 34 million foods.
Many of the features in Lose It! are available for free, but for a modest $39.99 per year (or $3.33 per month) you can access the premium membership, which features additional bells and whistles, such as advanced nutrition and exercise tracking tools, to help keep your diet on track.
When you download the app, you’ll be guided through a brief personal assessment to determine your weight-loss history, your goals, habits, your environment and your strategy for weight loss. When you’ve completed the questionnaire, you’ll be offered a choice of four plans:
— Relaxed, a lenient and sustainable plan which aims to cut a half pound a week.
— Steady, a comfortable but effective plan, which aims to cut 1 pound per week.
— Accelerates, an ambitious but manageable plan, which will help you drop 1.5 pounds per week.
— Vigorous, the most difficult plan, aims to cut 2 pounds per week.
Each plan has its own recommended calories per day target and offers an expected date of completion.
MyFitnessPal guides users through an initial set-up that asks basic questions about height, weight, activity level and goals. You’ll also be prompted to set up an account. Once you have, the app will spit out a daily calorie intake goal that will help you meet your desired rate of weight loss (which it doesn’t let you set higher than 2 pounds per week).
Users can scan a barcode on packaged food and a handy camera-enabled feature allows you to scan your actual plate of food, the app then recognizes the type and portion of the food you’re eating and adds to your list. The app includes a blog with plenty of informational videos and stories.
MyFitnessPal offers free features, including a food diary to track what you eat and a searchable food database of over 300 million items. You can build your own personal food database and log your meals and exercise. Discussion forums are also available along with a personalized diet profile. This version is ad-supported.
A premium membership is also available that offers more precise tracking of macronutrients. This ad-free version is free for the first month, but users will have to purchase a subscription plan to continue after that trial period ends. It’s billed at $79.99 per year or $19.99 per month.
MyPlate Calorie Counter
The MyPlate app from Livestrong bills itself as “the fastest way to lose weight and improve your overall health.” The app accesses the world’s largest food database to provide calorie counts, nutritional information and serving sizes for millions of foods. The barcode scanning feature makes it easy to log packaged foods. The app can also suggest foods based on dietary preferences and your daily calorie goal.
Many of the features are free, but the free version is ad-supported. You can remove banner ads for $0.99. A Gold membership costs $44.99 per year or $9.99 per month; there’s also a six-month option of the Gold membership, which is billed at $29.99.
MyNetDiary Calorie Counter
MyNetDiary bills itself as the “easiest food logging and health tracking” app, noting that users need to take fewer steps to log foods in their app than others. This can save time when logging and tracking your intake each day. The app also contains no ads or promoted stories, even for the free version.
MyNetDiary also offers a keto diet-specific tracking app and a low-carb tracking app. The premium diet app offers exclusive recipes created by the company’s team of registered dietitians, easy tracking and guidance to help you stick with your goal.
As with other apps, MyNetDiary will guide you through a series of questions to determine your background and diet goals. Then it generates a daily calorie budget along with suggestions for movement to help you meet your target calorie ratio to support the weight loss you’re looking for.
MyNetDiary‘s basic features are free. Its premium subscription, which the company claims can help members lose 20% more weight on average, costs $60 per year (or can be billed at $8.99 per month). It gives users access to additional nutrient and exercise planning tools; linking with fitness trackers; charts, reports and weekly analysis; up to 20 body measurements; blood glucose and diabetes tracking; prioritized technical support and no ads.
While WW (formerly Weight Watchers) has been around since the 1960s, the advent of the smartphone has infused some high-tech assistance to the company’s tried-and-true approach to weight loss. These days, the WW app is a key component of how dieters engage with the company’s weight-loss program. It offers guidance, daily check-ins, accountability, activity recommendations, weight tracking and nutritional information all at your fingertips.
WW makes liberal use of a “digital point system that is consumer-focused for more successful weight loss,” explains Antonette Hardie, a registered dietitian at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center in Columbus. “Consumers log their points with different point systems through their app.”
The WW app allows users to track food, activity, water intake and sleep. You can use the search bar to look up specific foods and recipe recommendations with the app’s “What’s in Your Fridge?” feature. You can also find weekly meal plans that can help take some of the guesswork out of eating well. The app also offers short coaching sessions that can help you stay on track. The handy barcode scanner feature allows dieters to scan the barcode on packaged foods to find and save their PersonalPoints value.
In addition to the food features, the app also offers mindfulness and meditation activities, exercise recommendations and longer-range tracking to help you understand your typical eating and movement patterns, as well as how you’re spending your PersonalPoints budget. Members can also connect with the company’s social network to build a community of supportive friends within the WW program.
The app permits a one-week free trial. To gain the full functionality of the app, you’ll need to join WW. The company offers several tiers of membership, starting with the digital-only plan. This self-guided option includes the app and a 24/7 live coaching chat service starting at $10 per month.
The non-app approach to digital tracking
In addition to these apps, you can also opt for a less fancy means of tracking your weight loss info, Davis Sameah says. A pen and notepad can do the trick, but “often, people find a pen and notepad less practical and prefer a digital method.” If that’s the case for you, she recommends “having a Google doc, memo app, a WhatsApp group with just yourself, etc., to easily be able to update your food tracking on your phone in real-time.”
This lower-tech approach may also be useful if you’re concerned about your personal information being hacked or misused.
Weight loss is about more than calories
While these apps and tracking options can certainly make losing weight a more organized affair, Davis Sameah cautions that not all calories are the same. “For example, 10 plain M&Ms and a regular-sized red pepper have similar caloric values,” but naturally, a red pepper has a lot more nutritional benefit than a pile of candy.
In other words, “caloric value has an impact on one’s weight-loss journey, but it’s far from the only factor.” You still have to make healthy choices that consider the whole benefit of a food, not just its calorie content.
7 apps for calorie and meal tracking
— Calorie Counter by FatSecret.
— Lose It!
— MyPlate Calorie Counter.
— MyNetDiary Calorie Counter.
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Update 05/10/22: This story was previously published at an earlier date and has been updated with new information.