If you’re a food lover (and let’s face it, who isn’t?!), it can be hard to keep track of every single thing you eat, from the cookies you bake at home to the barrage of small plates at the hot restaurant du jour. Enter the food journal: the super-responsible and mature best friend you’ve been waiting for.
And, no, you’re not required to carry around a physical notebook and pen. There is a host of free food-journaling apps—we love MyFitnessPal, Lose It!, FatSecret and My Diet Coach—that can help with any number of goals, weight loss (as their names suggest) and otherwise. Food journaling will also help you menu-plan and maintain balance and variety among your weekly meals. In other words, it can provide the kick you need to finally make use of that fish sitting in the back of the freezer.
Here are four things to expect when you start using technology to track food.
① You’ll have balance.
Every food journal app asks you to create a profile with stats on your height, weight and goals. The app uses that information to tailor a program alerting you to how much you should be eating, as well as what you should be eating. All four of the apps we tested set targets for calories, protein, carbohydrates and fats.
MyFitnessPal extends that peek into other areas, tracking sugar, fiber, sodium and more. So if you’re trying to cut salt, you’ll be able to keep tabs on your intake and design a daily menu that includes more fiber and protein.
② You’ll have variety.
Food journal apps can help you plan your meals for the week, including snacks. This can help you budget, balance your diet or just get out of the meat loaf rut.
Most of these apps are a gold mine for healthy recipes and suggestions on what to order when you’re out and about. MyFitnessPal has a blog that posts daily calls to action, including "How to Establish a Healthy Evening Routine," "12 Healthy Foods That Fill You Up Best" and "15 Vegetarian Options to Order at Chain Restaurants."
③ You’ll be part of a community.
MyFitnessPal offers forums where you can ask questions about the app, discover new recipes and get ideas on becoming a better eater. At last peek, there were more than 9,000 replies just on new product finds. We also found users talking up bento boxes, food-spending habits and something called "Ice Cream Bread."
Lose It! further customizes support, allowing users to communicate with select friends and join groups with specific interests or goals. For instance, you can swap recipes in Cook’s Corner, talk spices in Spice It Up or learn basics in Lost in the Kitchen. If you’re tired of talk, the app can also put you in touch with challenges, where you’ll be encouraged to try new foods, increase water intake and amp up the journaling.
④ You’ll gain accurate info.
It’s easy to assume you know the nutritional value of a cast-iron chocolate crinkle cookie, but a food journal app can put more accurate information at your fingertips.
All four apps include a bar code scanner, which uses your phone’s camera to accurately track packaged foods. However, MyFitnessPal offers the largest food database, with more than 5 million items featured. That’s because much of it is curated by the site’s 80 million registered users. There’s an occasional rogue entry, but most of what we found matched nutrition labels.
Another nice perk about MyFitnessPal is the ability to copy and paste recipe links from anywhere online, which in turn spits out nutritional information right there in front of you. That functionality saves you from having to manually enter the ingredients individually. And once those recipes are in your system, you can alter the quantities and the ingredients themselves.
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