Weight-Loss Apps for Food Lovers

Our pick of the top diet apps for the iPhone, Android, and BlackBerry
by Megan O. Steintrager

U sers of the iPhone, Android, and BlackBerry know there are hundreds of apps that promise to help you lose weight easily and quickly. Unfortunately, many health and fitness apps assume that you're willing to live on either fast food or cabbage; we're not sure which is worse. To find the best diet apps for the typical Epicurious member—somebody who loves to eat and generally prefers food made from scratch with few processed ingredients—we tested some of the most popular weight-loss apps in the Apple and Android markets, many of which are also available for the BlackBerry. (Some apps have iPad versions, and as tablets in general gain popularity, more apps will no doubt be developed for the platform.) Of course, you can already search thousands of healthy recipes using the Epicurious Recipes & Shopping List app, but for those who want to go the extra mile for weight loss Stainless steel tea infuser, we deemed the five apps in this chart to be the cream—or perhaps the skim milk—of the crop.

How We Tested
We created "EpiGal," a 40-year-old woman who's 5' 4" and weighs 150 pounds. She has a relatively sedentary lifestyle (a 9-to-5 office job) but is willing to exercise a few times a week. Using Self's Happy Weight calculator, we arrived at a target weight of 130, which she'd like to get down to by losing one pound per week—generally considered a reasonable rate by doctors, nutritionists, and dieters who want to avoid being ravenous, listless, and grouchy. For a sample day's meal for our test subject, we followed day one of Epicurious' Diet Solution. The plan—developed by nutritionist Dana Lilienthal—calls for cutting 500 calories from the typical 2,000-calorie diet, for a total daily caloric intake of approximately 1,500 calories, which translates to about one pound dropped per week.

How the Apps Stack Up
Calorie Counter and Diet Tracker by MyFitnessPal
Calorie Counter and Diet Tracker by MyFitnessPal

Available for: iPhone, Android, BlackBerry
Cost: Free
Grade: B+
The Bottom Line: Much of the data, including foods, measurements, calorie counts, and exercise stats, is user-submitted, which means it's plentiful but prone to human error. You have lots of choices, but just not always the ones you're looking for Business Education.

Ease of use Simple, clean design; easy to navigate between days and meals.
Calorie and goal tracking Daily summary lists nutrient goals, not just calories, so it encourages an overall healthy diet. The app clearly breaks down daily calories eaten and burned through exercise, with your net calorie count updated on your home screen every time you make a change.
Food search and accuracy Provides multiple ways to search for foods, but search results, while plentiful, are presented in illogical order. A search for "milk" turns up scrambled eggs with skim milk as the first choice, followed by low-fat blue raspberry milk. What we were searching for—a half cup of 1% milk—was the fourth choice.
Customization and personalization A "quick add" function allows users to input custom calorie counts for meals—perfect for recipes that have calorie counts, like the ones from the Epicurious diet menu. But recipe ingredients can't be edited, so if you make a mistake, you have to delete and re-add.
Tools and extras Includes a bar code scanner for packaged foods, programmed to work with both nationally well-known and obscure brands.
Nice touches At the end of each day, you get an encouraging note: "If every day were like today, you'd weigh 144.2 lbs in 5 weeks."
Worst drawbacks Food measurement choices are maddening—you have to hunt around for the right combination of food and amount, instead of just selecting the food and then the amount. For example, we couldn't select tablespoons of lime juice or cups of peanuts, so we had to convert to ounces.

MyNetDiary Calorie Counter PRO
MyNetDiary Calorie Counter PRO

Available for: iPhone, Android, BlackBerry
Cost: $3.99
Grade: B
The Bottom Line: All aspects of the app—its language, imagery, and data-entry tools—are very utilitarian.

Ease of use Weight-loss goals, target dates, and daily calorie goals are easy to choose and change. But the app layout is not intuitive. We had to dig around to find out how to search foods, scan bar codes, and save favorite foods.
Calorie and goal tracking In addition to food consumption and exercise, you can also track water intake, body measurements, vitamins and medications, hours of sleep, daily steps, and blood pressure. But it is hard to tell if you get caloric credit for exercise—there are different amounts given for "food left" and "total left."
Food search and accuracy This weight-loss app has more detailed options for foods than other apps tested. But you have to be connected to the Internet to use the app, and in our test, it lost connection several times.
Customization and personalization Recipe-creation instructions and process are confusing and time-consuming.
Tools and extras The app has a bar code–scanner feature for supermarket foods, but it doesn't work as well as those in other apps, and has to be downloaded and installed separately.
Nice touches The helpful "bottom-line" analysis gives you thumbs-up for things like burning calories through exercise, staying below your daily calorie target, or consuming a small amount of cholesterol. Plus: No ads dc motor!
Worst drawbacks The app's instructions are poorly written and hard to follow, making it difficult to use without lots of trial and error.

Lose It!
Lose It!

Available for: iPhone
Cost: Free
Grade: B
The Bottom Line: The simplicity of this good-looking app is its greatest asset and its biggest downside. The screens aren't overcrowded with data and choices, but sometimes we'd like more data and choices.

Ease of use Clean and streamlined, this app has by far the most attractive interface, with user-friendly scroll bars, entry boxes, and buttons that make it easy to navigate and enter data.
Calorie and goal tracking The overview screen clearly shows daily calorie budget, food calories consumed, and calories burned through exercise, plus how many more calories you can eat that day. The app includes lots of exercise options, and your daily calorie tracker goes into the green if you've burned more calories than you've eaten.
Food search and accuracy A search for "pumpkin muffin" turned up only two options: a raisin-pumpkin muffin with fewer than 200 calories, and a Dunkin' Donuts muffin with 650 calories. Calorie counts this confusing could spell diet disaster.
Customization and personalization Adding recipes is difficult: There is no simple calorie "quick add" like some other apps have.
Tools and extras "Motivators" allow you to set up reminders to log your meals, get e-mail reports, and share progress on Facebook and Twitter, if you like.
Nice touches An attractive goals page with a weight-loss graph helps keep track of your daily weigh-in number.
Worst drawbacks Of the limited selection of preprogrammed foods available, most are packaged foods or from chain restaurants.

SparkPeople Diet & Food Tracker
SparkPeople Diet & Food Tracker

Available for: iPhone, Android, BlackBerry
Cost: Free
Grade: B
The Bottom Line: This app functions best as a companion to the SparkPeople Web site, but the app and site together make for a friendly diet companion with plenty of community support on the site.

Ease of use Relatively easy to navigate, and the overall tone of the app is very positive and encouraging, with messages like, "The more you exercise, the more calories you burn!" and "You have surpassed your calories-burned goal for today."
Calorie and goal tracking Daily totals and goals for calories, carbs, fat, and protein are clearly displayed, with straightforward messages such as, "To reach your goal, you can eat 340 to 690 more calories today." The app also shows you the light at the end of the tunnel by tracking the date by which you'll lose weight if you stick to your calorie budget.
Food search and accuracy Food-search functionality is poor overall. A search for "hot chocolate" turned up hamburger or hot dog buns first, followed by chocolate-chip cookies. That said, meals can be saved as favorites and copied from one day to the next, so you don't have to search for frequently eaten meals.
Customization and personalization: Recipes can only be added on the site, not through the app, and correct measurements are hard to find. However, the nutritional and caloric analysis seems quite accurate. (The analysis for Spicy Thai Tofu lined up almost exactly with NutritionData.com's analysis.)
Tools and extras There's an optional meal plan with complete menu and recipes, but foods include diet clichés like cottage cheese, fat-free packaged pudding, and turkey bologna.
Nice touches This one offers a greater level of personalization than other apps. For example, it asks if you are pregnant or if you have Type 1 diabetes. Plus, there are lots of exercise options, and the app allows you to set up goals for calories to burn, then gives you reminders like, "Your goal is to burn 187 calories today."
Worst drawbacks The initial account setup is buggy and required multiple attempts. The app selection of "real" food is spotty, with a bias toward packaged and chain foods. App does not allow you to go back in time, although you can do this on the site.

Tap & Track Calorie Counter
Tap & Track Calorie Counter

Available for: iPhone
Cost: $3.99
Grade: B-
The Bottom Line: This no-fuss app works well offline, but it's best for people who eat a lot of brand name/chain foods or know the calorie amounts for their meals and just want to "quick add" calories and exercise.

Ease of use You can browse or search for foods in a number of ways, but there's no search function for exercise or brand-name foods, which means you have to scroll through a long alphabetical list. Woe to you if you're trying to find "yoga," "Zumba," or "Wendy's."
Calorie and goal tracking The app features a cool slot machine–style display of your remaining calorie budget when you add food or exercise: When it gives you credit for calories burned through exercise, watching the number of remaining calories shoot back up is exhilarating!
Food search and accuracy Some food measurements in this weight-loss app are confusing. The only search-result options for "pumpkin muffin" are either in grams or ounces, and the only way to find tablespoons of soy sauce is to find a restaurant listing with tablespoons as a measurement.
Customization and personalization You can add a budget for fat, carbohydrates, protein, and "food score," plus you can "quick add" calories for food and calories burned for exercise. The app lets you record intensity level rather than pace for exercise, a more realistic way for many people to measure effort levels and therefore estimate calories burned. That said, recipes are not easy to add, and calorie analysis for added recipes seems inaccurate.
Tools and extras Pie charts and graphs showing nutrition information and caloric ratios are available by the day or week. But some seem too complicated for anyone without a nutrition degree. There are no clear definitions or explanations of the data available within the app or on the companion site.
Nice touches Offline database of foods and exercises means you don't have to have Internet access to use this app, although optional syncing with the Web site is available. Plus: No ads.
Worst drawbacks Proposed daily calorie allotment of 1,194 for "EpiGal" seems quite low. And the User Guide/FAQ is so poorly written that it leads to confusion rather than clarity. For example, your "food score" is prominently tracked in the app, but it's unclear what that is. Perhaps it refers to Weight Watchers points? The FAQ isn't very clear, nor is the discussion thread on the app's Facebook page.

Criteria for Picking Diet Apps
Our focus was on the top calorie-counting apps that work with any diet. Therefore, we omitted apps like Fast Food Calorie Counter that narrowly focus on chain-restaurant food, as well as apps that simply track weight or body-mass index. We also skipped the many points-counting apps designed for the Weight Watchers diet, but downloading one of those makes a lot of sense if you're following that popular plan.

Other Apps to Consider
In addition to our five highest-rated apps, fitness enthusiasts might also want to consider Calorie Tracker by LiveStrong or DailyBurn's Calorie, Workout, and Fitness Companion. Both have excellent workout options, but the apps were ultimately too buggy, dependent on the companion Web sites, and rife with up-selling of add-ons to make the final cut for our list. We also nixed SimpLabs' Diet2Go because it doesn't have a robust calorie-counting function, but if you're simply looking to eat healthier, this app's push-to-phone daily menu suggestions are good if you select carefully (try the Mediterranean Diet, not one of the many fad or cleanse options). And finally, Lose Weight with Andrew Johnson is a popular motivational app based on the premise that, as the iTunes description says, "Many weight problems start in the mind."


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