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Mobile health

Mobile health

There are now more than 100,000 health and fitness apps you can download onto your smartphone, so you’ve got 24/7 advice on the go. But which app is right for you? Dietitian Laura Mash compiled these reviews.

After being asked by a patient, “What app should I use?”, Auckland-based Dietitian Laura Mash put together a national review group of dietitians and nutritionists. This volunteer group reviews health, fitness and nutrition apps to assess if they are easy and safe to use and whether their claims stack up. Here are their reviews of 10 of the most popular and most useful apps for New Zealanders.

FoodSwitch

What it does

Supports healthier food swaps. You scan the barcode of a food label for ‘healthier’ suggestions that are rated using a red, amber and green colour system based on fat, saturated fat, sugars, salt and energy content.

The good

  • Specific to NZ foods with 8000 items in the database.
  • Can be used without internet connectivity (once downloaded).
  • Makes it easy to find healthier foods.

The bad

  • Lacks information or advice on portion sizes.
  • Occasionally confusing, eg. a chocolate bar could be scanned and give four red lights and the suggested ‘healthier alternatives’ may also have four red lights.
  • User fatigue. Due to limited features, the process is the same every time. Also, no further encouragement is offered, such as motivational messages or a points system.

Cost: Free

MyFitnessPal

What it does

A weight management tool that allows users to track food and kilojoule intake by entering items from an extensive database. These are analysed and compared against individually tailored goals based on body type, gender, weight and activity level.

The good

  • Qualified dietitians are involved in running the app and managing the website.
  • Extensive database includes NZ foods and recipes. Contains a barcode scanner for easy inputting.
  • The app links with many other fitness tracking apps and devices such as FitBit to give users the option of combining their food and exercise goals.

The bad

  • It’s quite American. Many foods are measured in imperial units and goals are based on American healthy eating guidelines.
  • Users have to estimate their own portion sizes.
  • It’s time consuming, particularly during set-up.
  • It’s not as intuitive as other similar apps.

Cost: Free

Carbs & Cals

What it does

The composition of foods and meals are illustrated with photos. You can compare your meal to six different portion sizes and instantly view the energy and nutrients.
Contains a food, exercise and blood glucose (Android only) tracker so is helpful for diabetes, weight management and sports nutrition.

The good

  • An educational tool for carbohydrate counting.
  • Demonstrates how portion control can reduce kilojoule intake.
  • Helpful when eating foods without labels, takeaways or fruit and vegetables, for example.
  • Photographs support nutrient calculation.

The bad

  • Contains no NZ-specific data.
  • Not very user-friendly as a food and blood glucose tracking tool.
  • Uses a lot of data on your device as photographs need to be downloaded.
  • Photos difficult to see on a smaller screen.

Cost: $7.99 (Android), $7.49 (Apple)

The Monash University low-FODMAP Diet

What it does

Helps to manage IBS symptoms by identifying foods that contain a group of carbs (FODMAPs), poorly absorbed by some in the GI tract.

The good

  • Provides a portable guide for FODMAP food referencing, using a traffic light system.
  • Serving size/portion guide to support safe choices.
  • Shopping list, recipes and menu guide.
  • Supported by an online blog.

The bad

No supporting info for dietary management of IBS re fluid intake, meal routines, physical activity, alcohol, stress etc.
Some foods listed are not readily available in NZ.

Dietitian recommendation: This app is best for people who’ve worked with a dietitian to diagnose and manage their IBS.

Cost: $9.99-$10.77

My Diet Diary Calorie Counter

What it does

A weight management tool with a food and activity log so you can monitor your own progress.

The good

  • Simple, user-friendly app.
  • Easy to add your own foods using a barcode scanner.
  • Links into lots of fitness trackers such as FitBit, Jawbone.
  • Alerts can be created to remind you to log progress.
  • Links shared to forums for online member support.

The bad

Based on an American database, with few NZ brands.
Serving sizes not quantified.
Can’t export information.
Requires internet connectivity.
Time consuming, as foods need to be added manually.

Dietitian recommendation: Limited use in NZ given that most foods are American.

Cost: Free

Pedometer

What it does

Records the number of steps taken and totals them daily, weekly and monthly, displaying this activity alongside energy (kilojoules) burned, distance, walking time and speed per hour.

The good

  • Simple to use and interpret.
  • Takes gender, weight and step distance into account.
  • Helpful not just for monitoring but also as a motivating tool to increase walking activity.
  • Can download data to social media for even more motivation.
  • Doesn’t require internet connection.

The bad

  • May measure other activity, such as cycling, as walking.
  • It’s not known what method is used to calculate energy expended so accuracy unknown.

Cost: Free

Carb Counting with Lenny

What it does

An interactive platform to educate kids with Type 1 diabetes about the carbohydrate content of foods.

The good

  • An interactive way to involve children in carbohydrate counting using games.
  • Simple and intuitive to use.
  • Can personalise by adding own food pictures (iPhone only).

The bad

The food pictures can distort the portion sizes stated.
Small range of foods in database. Lacks cultural variety.

Dietitian recommendation: A good resource to engage children, but not suitable as the only carbohydrate-counting resource.

Cost: Free

Calorie Counter by FatSecret

What it does

A self-monitoring tool for weight management, using a food and exercise diary log.

The good

  • A simple, user-friendly app with some effective graphics to track progress against goals.
  • Ability to export some information (but not all).
  • Database includes NZ foods, brands, restaurants, recipes and a barcode scanner and web support.

The bad

  • Nutrient requirements are not responsive to weight changes — unclear what these are based on.
  • Requires internet connection and the full benefits are only experienced when used in tandem with the website, with some inconsistencies between Apple-Android-web platforms.
  • Not very intuitive (lots of repetition) so possibility of user fatigue or boredom.

Cost: Free

Foodeye

What it does

Compares the nutrition labels of packaged foods by searching or scanning barcodes.

The good

  • Lists allergens, gluten and ingredients lists of products, so useful for allergy sufferers.
  • NZ-based food database, with new foods added (similar to FoodSwitch) by taking a photo.
  • A ‘favourite foods’ list could be used in a nutrition consultation with a dietitian for food choices for a specific health condition.

The bad

  • May encourage a single nutrient focus rather than assessing food as a whole.
  • Requires data or a WiFi connection to function.
  • No recommendations or context given when comparing products.

Cost: Free

My Food Coach

What it does

Designed by the US National Kidney Foundation to help adults with kidney disease, diabetes and/or hypertension to choose the right foods.

The good

  • Includes shopping lists, recipes and advice.
  • User can set personal goals (dietary intake targets) based on their clinical situation.
  • Data is based on current American renal guidelines — three meals with one snack daily.
  • Promotes support and you can email a registered dietitian.

The bad

  • American-sourced information lacks relevance to NZ.
  • Portion sizes vary eg from 100g to a ‘serve size’.
  • Needs internet connectivity.

Cost: Free

Hints and tips when choosing a nutrition app

  • Do a little research to find out what will suit your needs. Some apps are simple, such as the pedometer; some provide multiple functions, such as MyFitnessPal; others are specific to medical conditions such as carbohydrate counting to help with diabetes management.
  • Some apps provide details on the nutritional content of food and inform you of your daily (or weekly) kilojoule and/or protein intake or other nutrients. As local food sources vary, it’s helpful to use an app that’s relevant to New Zealand.
  • Many apps are free or provide a ‘light’ version that’s free but where not all the functions are available. Others have a one-off cost or are available with a monthly subscription.
  • Some apps are produced in collaboration with or by nutrition experts, dietitians or universities. Others may be produced by those with little or no nutritional knowledge or background. Check it out before you commit.
  • Complicated doesn’t always mean better.
  • It’s useful to try several apps first to see which one suits you best. Some people like quirky and fun graphics, while others find pop-up adverts annoying!

Check out our Healthy Food Guide 101 Gluten-free Recipes app, available on Apple! Cost: $4.99




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