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Top 5 food diary apps to help you lose weight

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With the joy of spring comes the horror of realizing that bikini season is just around the corner. With only a couple of months to shed that winter weight, you’re going to need some help — which is why we’ve compiled this list of the five best food diary apps for your smartphone.

Most people don’t realize how many calories they’re consuming throughout the day, and simply becoming more aware of your daily calorie intake can be eye-opening — thereby helping you change your eating habits. A 2008 study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine showed that keeping a food diary can double a person’s weight loss.

Each of our featured apps has its own advantages and disadvantages, but all of them offer the ability to count calories, track your daily calorie intake and weight, and manage your nutrition. Even if you prefer not to use an app, simply jotting down each meal and snack can help. If these aren’t for you, try recording your daily eats in the Notepad app that comes with most phones. Even without the calorie counters, you’ll find yourself mustering up a little more self-control so that you don’t have a disappointing journal entry at the end of the day.

Photos are all courtesy of the Apple iTunes Store.

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MyNetDiary Calorie Counter

MyNetDiary Calorie Counter

It’s tedious enough to have to track your diet; the last thing you need is a complicated interface to navigate. MyNetDiary is one of the most user-friendly food-journaling apps we found, making the tracking process easy, quick and painless.

Its food database comprises of 126,000 foods entered by the manufacturer, plus 314,000 foods contributed by the app’s users. You can track your daily calorie intake and exercise, and the app shows you how many calories you burned from your workout and how many calories you have left to consume during the day based on your weight, height and activity level.

And don’t forget your nutrition! MyNetDiary provides the full Nutrition Facts of foods, including your occasional restaurant meal. Use your phone’s camera to scan barcodes or use the search feature to find a specific food. If the food isn’t in the database, you can create custom foods or create recipes. In addition to food, you can track your water intake, medications and measurements of hip size, waist size and neck circumference. You can view a graph of your weight loss or gain from day to day and connect to Facebook to share your successes.

Our favorite features of this app are the search function, Food Scores and Day Highlights. The search function searches as you type and remembers previous serving entries for food. The Food Score is like MyNetDiary’s version of “Nutrition Labels For Dummies.” Instead of attempting to decode the overall nutrition of a food based on its calories, fat, carbs, protein, etc., the Food Score gives each food its own grade based on the Nutrition Facts. The Day Highlights feature displays the good and bad of your day, including things like “You skipped breakfast or forgot to enter it. Eating a healthy breakfast will help you eat fewer calories for the rest of the day.”

Compatible with: iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad, Android and Blackberry
Cost: Free!

MyFitnessPal

MyFitnessPal

MyFitnessPal parallels the abilities of MyNetDiary, but this app’s database is significantly larger and its interface is slightly easier to use. On the other hand, MyNetDiary has additional features MyFitnessPal does not, like its Food Scores and Day Highlights.

MyFitnessPal’s enormous food database contains more than 1.1. million foods. You can save your favorites, add multiple foods at once and scan barcodes. We appreciated that this app included homemade foods, like a ham and cheese sandwich, in its database, while other food diary apps seem to expect you to eat out for every meal. You can also create an unlimited number of custom foods or enter your own recipes and calculate their nutritional components.

All the major nutrients — such as fat, protein, carbs, sugar, fiber, cholesterol and more — are displayed on a food’s profile, and MyFitnessPal tells you how many calories you have left throughout the day. Fitness isn’t forgotten either. The app allows you to choose from 350 exercises so you can track your cardio and strength training workouts. Like the food database, you can also create an unlimited number of custom exercises. The only downside to this feature is that adding cardio activities can be somewhat complicated since we don’t always know what our heart rate or speed are at the time.

You can view your daily and weekly overviews and track your weight and measurements with charts. Most features work offline, and you can add friends so you get the benefits of a strong support system.

Compatible with: iPhone, Android, Blackberry and Windows
Cost: Free!

Weight Watchers Mobile

Weight Watchers Mobile

Before you read any further, know that in order to fully access this app, you need to subscribe to Weight Watchers Online or eTools — which costs money. However, if you’re really trying to lose weight and keep it off, the Weight Watchers program is one of the most effective out there, so it might be worthwhile to join.

The app offers a food database of more than 31,000 food options, meals and recipes, and is completely compatible with the PointsPlus program. If it's not in the database, you can input the fats, carbs, fiber and protein of a food into a built-in points calculator, and it will spit out the item’s point value. Tracking is simplified with barcode scanning technology and the ability to quickly add foods from your Favorites or Recently Added items.

One of the best features of Weight Watchers Mobile is the cheat sheets. Having a pie slice at the local (unlisted) pizza place? Get an estimate for the number of points in a typical piece of pizza based on what kinds of toppings you added. Success stories, weight loss tips and informative articles are easily accessible through the app and encourage you to stay motivated.

Find something healthy and low in points to cook for dinner with the featured recipes — you can save 10 as favorites and create shopping lists based on the recipe ingredients. You can also track your activity, connect with the Weight Watchers community or find a Weight Watchers meeting in your area. Interactive graphs chart your progress.

The major downside of Weight Watchers Mobile is its limited food database, but it gets “brownie points” for its convenience, encouraging resources and insightful features, like the one that tells you “On a good day, if you eat like this for another month, you’ll weigh _____.”

Compatible with: iPhone, iPad and Android
Cost: Free!

Shroomies Nutrition Menu

Shroomies Nutrition Menu

If you like to follow the basic Weight Watchers plan but don't want to pay the price for the whole package, try Shroomies’ Nutrition Menu app. It’s helpful for anyone, whether you’re following Weight Watchers or not, but the cool thing about this app is that it’s completely compatible with Weight Watchers’ PointsPlus values. So you can choose to view either the calories or the point value of a food.

No Internet connection is required for this app, and its database includes 93,000 food items — both restaurant dishes and common foods like apples, meat and frozen meals. If you can’t find a food, add a custom item. Shroomies’ app displays calories, fat, carbs, fiber, serving size, protein, cholesterol, sodium and sugar and updates nutritional values when you adjust quantity. Despite the size of the database, we found it somewhat difficult to find the non-restaurant foods we wanted to track, so you may find yourself using the custom food feature frequently.

Since a healthy diet doesn’t just involve healthy eating, the Nutrition Menu app also lets you choose from 149 built-in exercises and shows you how many calories you burned based on your weight.

At the end of the day, you can view your daily summary with pie charts indicating your calories consumed and burned, as well as a list of food and exercises from throughout the day. You can jot down daily notes, track your weight with a graph, and even email the journal to yourself and import it into a printable spreadsheet. The app gives you a daily total Food Score based on your success that day.

Compatible with: iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad
Cost: $0.99

SparkPeople Diet & Food Tracker

SparkPeople Diet & Food Tracker

SparkPeople’s Diet & Food Tracker app is one of the easiest to use if your diet mainly consists of homemade foods rather than restaurant menu items. Though the calories and nutrition profiles are obviously estimates, choices like “grilled cheese sandwich” make it simple for you to find the general stats for your simple at-home meals.

On the other hand, a major downfall of this app is its reliance on an Internet connection. Most of the features require you to be connected, so its use is restricted to Wi-Fi-equipped areas.

SparkPeople’s database of more than 1 million foods is user-friendly but doesn’t list as many restaurant food options as the other food diary apps. The app offers daily meal plans customized for your weight and calorie goals, and provides full Nutrition Facts info for each food, including calories, total fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium, potassium, carbs and protein. All it takes is a glance to the home screen to view the calories eaten and burned in the middle of the day, and you can use the app’s graphs to see your weight and progress over time.

One of the Diet & Food Tracker’s highlights is its fitness features. Not only can you track workouts and calories burned throughout the day, but you can also watch useful exercise demos. Don’t know what a dumbbell crunch or single-leg bridge-up is? There’s a brief video showing you what to do.

Compatible with: iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad
Cost: Free!

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