While numerous studies have linked time spent in front of a computer or television screen with an increased risk of obesity, it seems technology may also be a valuable tool in the battle of the bulge. At the touch of a screen, you can learn to eat more healthily, monitor your weight loss, keep tabs on your fruit and vegetable consumption and even track your daily calorie intake. If you're trying to eat more healthily and lose some weight, here are 10 apps that deserve a spot on your mobile device. All of the apps featured are compatible with iPhone, iPad and iPod touch
NHLBI BMI Calculator - Free
Calculating your body mass index (BMI) is a great starting point if you're trying to lose weight because it helps you determine a healthy weight range. There are countless BMI calculator apps that are free to download, but this one from the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute in the US comes out on top as one of the best. Not only is it associated with a reputable health agency; it is extremely user-friendly and straightforward. The app calculates your BMI based on your height and weight and for each BMI category suggests if you need to lose or gain weight. The app also provides a link to a website with detailed information on selecting a weight-loss programme and a guide to help you change your behaviour to get you on your way.
EatingWell Healthy in a Hurry - Free
Research shows that eating out is strongly associated with weight gain, as well as higher intakes of both fat and sodium. That's what makes this app so appealing.
EatingWell Healthy in a Hurry puts 200 mouth-watering meal ideas at your fingertips and allows you to search for recipes according to meal, main ingredient and preparation time. What sets this app apart from the hundreds of other recipe apps is that these recipes include symbols to highlight certain nutritional criteria, such as being high in fibre, heart-healthy and low in calories, making healthy eating even easier.
Lose It! - Free
A food diary and weight-loss plan all in one, this app has all the bells and whistles to help you shed that extra weight - and keep it off. It also allows you to set a realistic weight-loss goal of 0.2 to 1 kilogram per week, a rate of weight loss recommended by most health organisations, including the American Dietetic Association. After entering your age, height, weight and goal weight, the app gives you a daily calorie allowance to help you meet your weight-loss goal. For each meal and snack you eat, you enter what you ate and how much, and the app figures out how many calories you've consumed and how many you have left for the day. It also lets you track your physical activity and accounts for any calories burnt through exercise in the daily calorie allowance.
Most impressive is the comprehensive database of food items to choose from. Not only can you search from thousands of brand-name products and restaurant menu items, you can also use the handy bar code scanner in the app to scan food products at home. Just scan a product, enter how much you ate, and the app figures out how many calories you've consumed. While the scanner didn't recognise all the items in my kitchen, it did identify a surprising number of products, including breakfast cereal, tofu and condiments.
Cooking Light Recipes: Quick and Healthy Menu Maker - $3.99 (Dh14.65)
With a few swipes of your finger, this app lets you browse through hundreds of healthy recipes and create delicious menus. Cooking Light, the popular American magazine, is known for its healthy and straightforward recipes, and these are no exception. I found this app extremely useful when I was in the grocery store and needed some healthy meal ideas. I also used it when planning a meal for health-conscious dinner guests. Best of all, every recipe includes a full nutrient analysis, a bonus for diabetics or anyone watching their waistline.
Portion Control Pop Quiz - Free
If your weight-loss efforts have hit a standstill, oversized portions may be to blame. This app helps nip oversized portions in the bud through a fun and user-friendly pop quiz. The quiz uses common household items, such as a bar of soap or pack of gum, to help you gauge correct portion sizes of various foods. Once you've completed the quiz you're given the option to download a portion-size cheat sheet. Unfortunately, my attempts to view the cheat sheet didn't work as the web page had been moved. Regardless, this is an amusing and educational app that helps users learn how much food should really be on their plate.
Fast Food Calorie Counter - $0.99
This app provides detailed nutrient information for thousands of menu items from more than 100 popular fast-food restaurants. While not all the restaurants in the app are found in the UAE, most are, including McDonald's, Burger King, Subway, Krispy Kreme, Starbucks and Pizza Hut. This app is enormously useful for people on the run who want to make healthier food choices without sacrificing convenience. I discovered it's also a helpful reminder that sometimes a seemingly innocent coffee and muffin are, well, not so innocent on the calorie front. The only downside to this app that I encountered is that menu items are listed alphabetically, not by calorie content, so unless you know what you're looking for, it takes time to find the healthiest options available.
The Snack App - Free
Snacks can play an important role in weight loss: not only are they an opportunity to stock up on important vitamins and minerals, they also help curb your appetite at your next meal, so you're less likely to overindulge. This app provides hundreds of mostly healthy snack ideas that are organised by calorie content, including 50, 100 and 200 calories, and craving, including salty, sweet, crunchy and creamy. The only downside to this app is that while all the snacks are controlled for calories, it doesn't necessarily guarantee they are a healthy choice, as is the case with French fries and caramel-coated popcorn.
Pedometer 24/7 - $0.99
Studies show that many people who lose weight without exercise often regain it in the long-term. And what better way to incorporate physical activity into your life than walking? At the push of a button, this handy pedometer senses motion in your iPhone which tracks the number of steps you take, the distance you've walked and how many calories you've burnt. I tracked my movement for a couple of days and realised I need to move a lot more to reach 10,000 steps per day, the recommended amount from most health organisations, including the National Health Service in the UK.
Couch-to-5k - $1.99
Couch-to-5k is a great app for anyone who wants to be more active, but isn't sure where, or how to begin. As the name suggests, this app provides a detailed training plan to take you from the couch to running five kilometres in just nine weeks. The app provides three workouts per week that include a mix of walking and jogging to help build your stamina and endurance. The workouts seem really achievable, making this app a great choice for anyone who easily gets discouraged when it comes to sticking to any sort of exercise regime.
Nutrition Tips -Free
When it comes to healthy eating, often small changes are the most effective since they are the most sustainable. That's what makes this app so useful. Nutrition Tips offers just that, hundreds of practical and realistic tips to help you on the road to a healthier diet. The tips cover a range of topics, including food safety, portion control and label reading. Incorporating just a few of these tips each week is an easy way to clean up your diet and cut out excess calories.
Michelle Gelok is a member of the Dietitians of Canada and holds a BSc in Food and Nutrition. She lives in Abu Dhabi.