Can Diet Apps Really Help You Eat Healthier?

STACK Expert Kait Fortunato reviews the research on diet apps and offers her four favorites.

Diet App

Can technology help you reach your health and fitness goals? It's a particularly interesting question when you focus your attention on adolescents, who have grown up in the tech era and readily rely on the Internet and smartphones to answer their questions.

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The authors of an article in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics set out to find the answer: how does consumer health technology affect adolescents? They interviewed parents to collect their recommendations for effective apps. The consensus: the most useful health apps assist adolescents with restaurant choices, teach them to cook healthy meals, allow their participation in peer networks and assist in self-monitoring.

Another study on adolescent intervention showed that wellness applications that offer assistance with self-observation and motivation are also effective. Applications focusing on self-care, a unique area of wellness, can lead young people to adopt healthier lifestyles.

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It seems that adolescents can truly benefit from apps that help them reach their health goals. Of course, before you download an app (and possibly spend some of your hard-earned cash), you need to know what to look for. Below are a few tips on what separates helpful health apps from not-so helpful ones.

  • It Offer Reminders: Apps that remind you when it's time to eat, pack a lunch or prep a meal can be especially beneficial.
  • It's Visual: Recipe apps with photos of the steps involved in cooking and images of the final product can boost your confidence in the kitchen.
  • It Lets You Communicate: Certain apps allow you to communicate with a health professional or with your peers—helpful when you need an answer to a personal question.
  • It's Up-To-Date: Apps that include new food items and restaurants make your decisions easier.
  • It Takes A Broad Approach: Apps that focus on foods and meal portion size can be more effective than those that simply track calories.

Below are four of my favorite apps. I prefer the ones that focus on big picture health goals, self-care and motivation.

  1. Recovery Record: Although this app is geared toward treatment of eating disorders, it's an excellent tool for people who struggle with their relationships with food (stress or reward-type eating). Users can sync up with their registered dietitians for support.
  2. Cozi: This app is great at helping you organize info. You can access your grocery list and meal plan in one location. Extremely helpful when trying to plan for a healthy week!
  3. Food Tripping: This app is great when you're on the go! You can use your GPS to find healthy meals off the beaten path as well as venues like juice joints and farmers markets.
  4. Fooducate: I like this app because it ranks food items based on their vitamin and mineral content as well as the ingredient list, without a focus on calories.

References:

Knblock-Hahn, Amy; LeRouge, Cynthia. "A Qualitative, Exploratory Study of Predominantly Female Parental Perceptions of Consumer Health Technology Use by Their Overweight and/or Obese Female Adolescent Participating in a 4-week weight management intervention." Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. April 2014, Volume 114, Number 4, pp 570-576.

Holzinger, Andreas; Dorner, Stefan; Eodinger, Manuela; Valdez, Andre Calero; Ziefle, Martina. "Chances of Increasing Youth Health Awareness through Mobile Wellness Applications." Lecture Notes in Computer Science: 2010, Volume 6389, pp 71-81.


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