After writing a blog post about juicing versus smoothies and finding that the Harvard School of Public Health recommends eating from five to 13 servings of fruits and vegetables each day, I started wondering how I measured up on that count. I have often heard that tracking helps you stay accountable in meeting goals. I decided to investigate using an app to track what I ate to make sure I was indeed eating a balanced diet.
It didn’t take long to find APPCRAWLER, a site that helped me find a variety of food diary and calorie tracking apps. I decided to see what was available free of charge, and while many of the apps looked great, I ended up choosing MyFitnessPal. I saw a few others that I try out later, as I didn’t really want to focus on counting calories, but on tracking what I ate. MyFitnessPal definitely tracks your daily “allotment” of calories versus food intake and exercise. However, it did get rock solid review on the App Store.
I signed in using my email address, and entered a weight goal, my gender, my birthdate, where I live, and my height and weight. The app then created a custom plan with the number of calories to eat each day to maintain my weight, along with the amount of various nutrients I need to eat each day. It ties in with my iOS fitness tracker on my iPhone to track my steps—something that I do already. I believe it also works on Android and other devices.
Getting to know the app
The app jumped right in with “What was the last meal you ate?” Although I’d just eaten lunch, I wanted to capture what I ate for breakfast, so I tackled that area first. Initially, I made adding a food a lot harder than it had to be. With the idea that something so popular can’t be that hard to use, I did a little Internet research. It turns out it was much easier to add a food than I realized. You simply:
- Click “+Add Food” under the meal to which you’re adding it.
- Type in a food with some details, like “Rio Star Grapefruit,” in the Search box.
- Click the Search button.
The app searches a robust database with items submitted by the app user community, along with nutrient content, calories, and serving sizes. It popped up all types of options for each food I entered. With my grapefruit example, the first one in the list matched exactly what I’d eaten—a half medium-sized Rio Star grapefruit. I selected it, clicked a checkmark, and BOOM! It was added to my Breakfast foods in my food “Diary.”
As I added some foods, like carrots and whipping cream (my indulgence with my steel cut oats at breakfast), the app popped up notes, like “This food has lots of vitamin A.” That made me feel kind of good about myself. The note when I added whipping cream? Not so positive. Notes like that provided a good reminder of the types of nutrients you’re ingesting with various foods. That might encourage me to eat a wider variety of foods to get all the nutrients my body needs and reduce my intake of unhealthy foods.
For the calorie conscious
If you are paying attention to calories, MyFitnessPal tells you how many calories you’re consuming compared to your weight loss, gain, or maintenance goal. It adds more calories back to your daily allowance based on the number of steps you take. You can tie in with a fitness tracking device, though I just let it slurp in that data from the health app on my iPhone.
But am I eating enough fruits and veggies?
I scrolled down past my breakfast, lunch, and soon-to-be-entered dinner food entries and saw a black button with a pie chart icon and the word “Nutrition.” Clicking it showed me the number and percent of total calories I had consumed in each meal. Clicking the “Nutrients” tab at the top showed the total grams of protein, carbs, fiber, sugar, fats, and various vitamins that I had consumed so far. It also showed me how many I needed to consume each day and how much I had left to consume—even when I’d met or exceeded my recommended intake.
I was a little unsure about how the app determined how much of any macronutrient or nutrient I should consume, but every time I looked up what I should consume based on my age, weight, and height, the app was spot on. I really liked seeing where I’ve met nutritional goals, and where I need to shift the next meals to make up for what I was missing. I saw that by upgrading to the paid version of the app, I can get a list of foods that help me fill in those gaps for each nutrient. I might have to do that.
All in all, I took about an hour and a half to become familiar enough with the app to add the food that I ate for one meal. Although it doesn’t specifically call out how many fruit and vegetable servings I’ve eaten, it perhaps answers the more important question—am I getting the nutrients I need?
Will I continue to use the app?
After three and a half days with the app, I’m totally sold on this tracking thing. It makes me more conscious of what I’m eating and what we’re serving our family. While I already take great care to eat healthy foods, I have learned that my nutrition assumptions are sometimes off-base. For example, to get a ton of fiber, steel cut oats weren’t the awesome fiber fix I believed them to be! For a lot more fiber bang for your bite, try split peas or lentils—or just make my Veggie Rice Bowl with Guacamole recipe. The black beans in the recipe help you meet close to a quarter of your daily fiber needs.
So how do you ensure you’re eating a balanced diet? Do you use any tracking apps that you love? I’d love to hear about it!