The 7 best diet and weight loss apps of 2021, according to a dietitian

Table of Contents: Masthead Sticky

  • If you want to pay more attention to what you’re eating, a food tracking or weight loss app can help.
  • While they’re not for everyone, weight loss apps are helpful for certain health or fitness goals.
  • The best apps track your daily food intake and give expert insight on how to be healthier.
  • We spoke to dietitian Samantha Cassetty about how weight loss apps can positively change your health.

While we are (thankfully) moving past the era of toxic diet culture and feeling like you need to limit what you eat, there are certain times you might want help tracking your food intake. Maybe you’re looking for accountability to get back on track after a year of emotional eating, to feel more energized throughout the day, to support your workout goals, or you’re under doctor’s orders to start eating healthier. Regardless, weight loss apps can help you go about food tracking in a healthful and sustainable way.

Read more: How to get your diet back on the healthy track while working from home during the pandemic, according to nutrition experts

“There are many free and paid apps to help you learn how to eat more healthfully,” Samantha Cassetty, RD, national nutrition and wellness expert with a private practice based in New York City, told Insider. “The most important thing is to find one that supports a variety of healthful foods in balanced amounts that are right for your needs.”

At the end of this guide, I’ve included tips on how a weight loss app can help, as well as the insight Cassetty shared on why making healthy changes takes more than just the help of an app.

Here are the best weight loss apps:

  • Best overall weight loss app: Noom
  • Best weight loss app for those on a budget: Weight Watchers
  • Best free weight loss app: MyNetDiary
  • Best weight loss app for fitness: MyFitnessPal
  • Best weight loss food tracking app: Lose It!
  • Best weight loss app for busy lifestyles: Rise
  • Best weight loss app for at-home cooks: Fooducate
Best overall

Noom

Noom distinguishes itself from other diet and weight loss apps by looking at your entire lifestyle rather than just food intake.

Pros: Comprehensive diet plan backed by nutrition experts, assesses a user’s entire health profile, offers a food log and calorie tracker

Cons: Expensive

Noom is unique in that it not only pairs you with a health and nutrition expert to craft a plan individual to you, but it also takes into account a variety of factors like age, height, weight, activity level, target goals, medical history, and personal goals. 

The program Noom creates for you suggests which foods to eat, how much physical activity to do, and other healthy habit reinforcement. The goal is to give you the tools you need to adjust your current lifestyle gradually, making small changes that can be sustained over time. This approach leads to better health and fitness all around, which makes it a more balanced option for those looking to lose weight in a healthy and sustainable fashion.

The Noom app includes features you’d expect, like a food log, calorie tracker, and an activity monitor. It also provides incentives for you to be more active but in a more mindful way, taking into account caloric intake, fitness levels, and a variety of variables.

The downside of Noom is that it’s pricey. But if you’re looking for a larger life change, it’s a great, expert-backed program.

Best on a budget

ww app

Weight Watchers has helped people lose weight for decades and does a great job of making the transition to the digital age.

Pros: Familiar diet plans, offers a barcode scanner for use at the store, has more than 8,000 recommended recipes, allows members to attend workshops and coaching sessions

Cons: App can be glitchy at times and can have trouble logging food

Weight Watchers WW app is designed to supplement its proven dietary plan by putting the resources members need right at their fingertips. That includes a massive database of rated foods using the Weight Watchers point system, putting less emphasis on calories and more on total awareness of exactly what foods you’re eating.

The app includes far more features than just a food-tracking database, too. It offers more than 9,000 healthy recipes, a barcode for scanning foods at the grocery store, and the ability to get advice from a diet coach at any time. Members can also connect with one another to offer advice and encouragement, while also earning a variety of tangible rewards — such as water bottles and wireless earbuds — just for leading a healthy lifestyle.

Weight Watchers members get access to the WW app as part of their benefits, or you can purchase a digital-only membership. This provides access to all of the app’s features but doesn’t allow digital-only users to attend workshops and coaching sessions. 

Best free app

mynetdiary

If you’re comfortable managing your own food choices, MyNetDiary is an excellent option for free.

Pros: An excellent app for anyone on a budget, offers food and exercise tracking and a variety of meal planning options

Cons: The advanced tracking options are behind a paywall

While the app does have some premium features, MyNetDiary‘s free services are very good, too, and great for anyone on a budget.

Those features include food and exercise tracking, meal planning options, graphical charts to map your progress, daily analysis of eating habits, and even access to a large and active online community. And not only are these services free but they don’t require the user to create an account. That means your data stays completely anonymous.

Paying for the premium version of MyNetDiary unlocks a number of other useful upgrades, as well. They include compatibility with Fitbit devices, health tracking for those who are diabetic or pre-diabetic, and personalized diet advice from a nutritionist. Those are handy to have if you need them but aren’t necessary to see beneficial functionality from this app.

Best for fitness

myfitnesspal

MyFitnessPal encourages users to think about the things they eat, while also helping them become more active at the same time.

Pros: Offers a wide variety of cardio and strength workouts, has a database of over 11 million different foods, features a barcode scanner for use at the store, its recipe importer gives you info on custom at-home meals, free features

Cons: $50 annual membership required for the full suite of features

While many diet and weight loss apps focus on just eating healthy, you should also ramp up your exercise routine for the best results. That’s where MyFitnessPal comes in, acting as both a diet and an exercise coach.

MyFitnessPal comes with a database of more than 11 million foods, as well as a barcode scanner for adding entries to your food log. It includes a recipe importer for evaluating home-cooked meals, which is especially helpful when trying to get an accurate picture of your current eating habits.

Beyond those features, the app includes more than 300 cardio and strength workouts for a more well-rounded approach to your health and fitness. It even integrates with Apple’s HealthKit, as well as the MapMyRun, Garmin, and Fitbit apps to more accurately track steps and workout routines.

MyFitnessPal has a great online community to provide support, advice, and encouragement. While the premium membership is $10 a month or $50 a year, MyFitnessPal does have plenty of features for free.

Best for tracking food

lose it

Lose It! lets you quickly and easily input the foods you’ve eaten to calculate your caloric intake for the day — and the app is intuitive enough for anyone to use.

Pros: Easy to use food tracking, intuitive app, can take photos of your food to estimate calories, offers a social aspect to connect with other users, plenty of free features

Cons: App can be buggy, requires you to be highly specific about some foods

There are literally dozens of food tracking apps available for your smartphone but thanks to its versatility and smarts, Lose It! is our top pick. You’re able to easily add what food you ate today by selecting it from the app’s extensive database or by scanning the barcode on a product purchased at the store.

You can even take a photo of your meals in order to get an estimate of how many calories it contains. The app includes a helpful water tracking feature that reminds you to stay hydrated throughout the day, too. 

All of this functionality is included in the app for free but a $40 annual membership unlocks additional features like a Fitbit-compatible activity tracker, macronutrient goal setting, and access to a detailed and powerful meal planner.

An active community of users also provides a social aspect to using the app, which can be helpful when it comes to looking for support and feedback. The app even has weight loss games and challenges to take part in as well, which does a nice job of providing extra motivation.

Best for busy lifestyles

rise

Rise is the food tracker that doesn’t require an extensive amount of time to use — even minimal input can provide users with immense benefit.

Pros: Doesn’t require a lot of effort to make use of its benefits, simplifies the diet process, makes use of an easy-to-use food photo system that tracks what you eat

Cons: Expensive at roughly $48 per month

Food tracking and weight loss apps can be a lot of work. But the Rise app requires minimal work from users while still providing plenty of helpful advice to assist in achieving their fitness goals.

With Rise, you won’t be scanning bar codes, searching through food databases, or entering individual ingredients into the app. Instead, you just snap a photo of your meal or snack and upload it to your account. Then, a personal nutritionist reviews the photo and offers an analysis based on the goals you’ve set. This not only provides helpful feedback but adds a measure of accountability that goes a long way towards keeping users on track.

While Rise takes the drudgery out of the process, the simplicity that it provides comes at a price with monthly fees start at around $48 per month. This does make it pricey for a dietary service accessed through an app, though it’s still much cheaper than paying for an on-call personal nutritionist — which is essentially what you get here.

Best for at-home cooks

fooducate

Fooducate is the informational tool you need if you’re looking to improve your nutrition yet don’t know where to start.

Pros: An excellent informative tool to help people become more aware of their nutrition, uses an easy to understand grading system for a variety of foods, offers insightful tips on what to look out for when shopping

Cons: Food database isn’t entirely comprehensive (but gets updated often)

Fooducate is an app designed to help you make smarter decisions about your food as it suggests healthier alternatives to your favorite grub.

Using Fooducate is extremely easy, too. Simply scan the barcode on any product at the grocery store and it provides a letter grade for the nutritional value of that item ranging from A+ to D-. Accompanying that letter grade is an explanation of why the product received the grade it did, including valuable information about the nutritional content it offers.

The app also points out important things to be aware of, including whether or not a product contains added sugars, artificial coloring or sweeteners, or other unhealthy additives. This allows consumers to make more informed decisions at the grocery store, while also assisting with finding healthier alternatives.

Fooducate has other features beyond just scanning products at the grocery store. It also serves as a health tracker, offers insightful diet tips, and provides delicious and healthy recipes. But its engaged and active community is one of its best assets, with users sharing tips and suggestions with one another on a constant basis. That kind of support is an incredibly helpful feature for anyone struggling to eat healthier and lead a better all-around lifestyle.

How a weight-loss app can help

Considering you always have your phone with you, using an app to track your food and screen your grocery store purchases is ideal. Some of the apps that are available even create extensive meal plans, provide diet and exercise routines, or offer consultations from dietitians and nutritionists. Others simply track what you eat in order to raise awareness of the calories you’re taking in. Cassetty said there are benefits to both and that even basic food trackers are valuable.

“Free tools allow you to track your food intake, which is a form of self-monitoring that’s been found helpful for reaching or maintaining a comfortable weight,” she said. “They can also expose when you might be grazing or over-snacking, which happens when you’re spending more time working at home with a stocked kitchen.”

Why making healthy changes takes more than an app

While Cassetty said she finds plenty of value in the use of smartphone apps to track dietary intake, she also urges caution, saying that “unless you’re getting the tools and information you need to make lasting changes, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to maintain any weight you’ve lost.”

She recommended working on understanding how to balance meals so they fill you up while tasting great at the same time. She also stresses the importance of developing healthier coping strategies rather than turning to food when we’re bored, stressed, anxious, depressed, or even happy.

“Rather than focus on a goal weight, I think a better way to go is to focus on small steps you can take to create healthier habits,” Cassetty said. “Examples include, limiting soda, upping your veggie intake at lunch and dinner, cooking an extra meal or two, drinking more water, and aiming for 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night.”

Those are words of wisdom, no doubt, but Cassetty also expressed the importance of cutting ourselves some slack when things get especially stressful and difficult.

“I think it’s important to be flexible and compassionate with yourself during these challenging times,” she added. “You may not be able to eat as well as you’d like or maintain your healthy routines, and that’s alright. As long as you’re putting in some effort — versus none at all — it’s a step in the right direction.”

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We tried a fermentation-tracking device and highly recommend it to find out which foods are making you bloated

Following is a transcript of the video.

Michelle Yan: Burping, farting, bloating, diarrhea: We all experience these things. Some may know exactly what foods are causing them these problems, but others may not. Sure, generic lists on Google may help, but they’re not personal or quantifiable enough. This device, called FoodMarble AIRE, may give you a clearer idea of exactly what foods are causing your discomfort.

Kara Chin: My digestive problems include…

Gene Kim: Feeling gassy all the time.

Abby Narishkin: Constipation.

Manny Ocbazghi: Sharp pains in my stomach.

Abby: IBS.

Gene: And also violent diarrhea.

Michelle: So what exactly is this device?

James Brief: FoodMarble AIRE is a breath-analysis device that tracks a specific kind of digestion called fermentation. And fermentation’s a healthy part of digestion, but sometimes too much fermentation from certain foods can cause symptoms in a lot of people. Bloating, pain, gas, and even diarrhea.

Abby: My stomach does not respond well to things like onions and garlic.

Gene: Meat or oily foods.

Abby: Brussels sprouts.

Kara: If it says “sugar-free,” I know I shouldn’t have it.

Abby: If I eat an apple, game over. And avocados, sadly.

What could be causing these symptoms?

James: Fermentable oligosaccharide, disaccharide, monosaccharide, and polyols. It’s a fancy word that means some complex carbohydrates and not carbs like we think of like bread. FODMAPs are found in all kinds of fruits, dairy, vegetables, grains, and these nutrients, while very healthy, if they’re not absorbed properly in certain people, this fermentation causes a lot of the symptoms that people experience.

Manny: I don’t know exactly what I’m reacting to. It could be gluten. It could be dairy. So hopefully this test will help me figure that out.

James: So there’s two general ways that people can use this device. One, you can use it in your regular, everyday use. You can track your foods, track your symptoms, and then you take several breaths throughout the day, and then with our app’s food database, we can tell you which foods contain higher and lower amounts of FODMAPs.

The second way that people could use the app is that we optionally provide pure samples of FODMAPs. You mix it into a little bit of water, and then for three hours while you have an empty digestive system, except for this one FODMAP, we can test you and see if you’re fermenting a lot from this. It’s day one of this experiment.

Gene: I got some teriyaki chicken.

Kara: I got noodle soup.

Gene: Are you excited?

Kara: Uh, yeah, we’re gonna learn things.

Gene: Yeah, let’s do this. Let’s figure out what’s causing our digestive problems.

Manny: So my first week using AIRE has been pretty interesting.

Gene: So it felt like the device was accurately measuring my activity in the stomach.

Kara: My fermentation levels are really high after I’ve had pizza and pita chips and hummus.

Manny: One of the surprising results I got was when I went to Chipotle last week. I purposely stacked my bowl with like dairy products, and then I did my breath test probably about a half an hour later, and my fermentation score actually decreased from the morning.

Abby: I would eat the almonds, and this past week I’ve been recording it, and my fermentation score has been really high. So we asked why that might be happening, and it turns out that almonds are low FODMAP only in smaller quantities, which I have a problem with portion control.

Gene: When I eat meat with vegetables, it was actually fine. The levels would show a low indicator. But when I would eat meat with bread, like a sandwich or a hamburger, the levels were high.

Manny: So when you first download the app, it does tell you not to use the breath tests while you’re drinking. But I was still curious to see what it says, and my readings were like 10 out of 10, like off-the-charts red. But that does let me know that the app is working.

Gene: I tried the inulin elimination diet. I didn’t even know such thing existed before this. I came in thinking that meat is the main problem in my diet, but it turned out that it wasn’t necessarily meat. It was the things that I ate with meat, like bread, garlic, and onion.

Abby: So going forward, I’m gonna eat less almonds and definitely work on portion control.

Kara: I think I just will prepare for suffering whenever I have these foods that I love but know that my body doesn’t react well to.

Abby: I think I would recommend this device. Although it didn’t necessarily give me the answers that I wanted, I think it would be really helpful for someone who definitely has an intolerance to lactose or one of those four pillars and so that they can get a pretty solid answer on what they should avoid to eat.

James: Unfortunately, breath analysis is limited to fermentation-related issues. So if breath analysis and fermentation are not their cause of their problems, they should see a dietician, a healthcare professional, a gastroenterologist for further analysis that can help their issues.

Michelle: So be like, “This is Gene the farting machine.”

Gene: All right, you give me the cue.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This video was originally published in May 2019.

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A dietitian explains which non-dairy milk is best for you

Following is a transcript of the video.

Groetch: The rice milk and the coconut milk and the almond milk are very low in protein. So if you’re looking to get a protein source like a vegetarian or plant-based protein source, these are not very good.

Narrator: That’s registered dietician Marion Groetch. Today she’s gonna help us sort through all of these different non-dairy milks and tell us which ones might just be better for you.

In the last several years, the market for non-dairy milks has exploded, and that’s great for the some 65% of adults who are lactose intolerant, but with more than a dozen varieties now crowding the dairy aisle, it’s hard to know which one to choose. Ultimately, Groetch says, it comes down to what you’re looking for.

Groetch: So if you’re looking to get closest to cow’s milk, I would probably go with a soy milk just because it has more protein. It has about seven grams of protein per cup as opposed to eight grams in cow’s milk, and then oat milk is somewhere in between. About four grams of protein per cup of oat milk. Soy is high in protein because it comes from a bean, whereas oat comes from a grain, and it tends to have less protein in it. The protein in the soy milk is also more complete. If you’re looking to reduce your calories, almond milk might be a good choice. So the rice milk here is higher in calories or the highest in calories, and then we have oat, soy, coconut, and almond milk is usually the lowest in calories.

Narrator: But if you’re trying to watch your fat intake, you might actually want to avoid coconut milk.

Groetch: So soy has about four grams of fat per cup, and again, these are healthier fats than the fats that you might find in a 2% milk, but it’s equivalent in the amount of fat. Oat milk, about three grams. It depends on the brand. Coconut milk is a little bit higher. It’s about six grams of fat. I don’t really see the benefit to coconut milk. It’s higher in saturated fats, although now we know that the saturated fat in coconut is probably not as detrimental to cardiovascular health as we once thought, but I think the jury is still out, and I wouldn’t be taking a lot of saturated fats from coconut products right now.

Narrator: But when you’re choosing which milk to buy, there’s more to consider than just protein, calories, and fat.

Groetch: Most of them are fortified with vitamin D, vitamin A, vitamin B12, but you have to purchase a fortified milk. So some are fortifying up to 45% of the daily value for calcium, whereas others are only fortifying up to 10%. So this rice milk is fortified with 30% of the daily value. So the daily value for calcium is 1,000 milligrams, and that covers most people. So 30% per cup would mean 300 milligrams of calcium per cup, and that’s equivalent to cow’s milk. Coconut milk, actually, is only fortified at 10%. So you’d only get 100 milligrams of calcium per cup. So it would be difficult to meet your calcium needs if you’re relying on a product like this for calcium. They’re mostly not fortified with other nutrients like potassium. Soy milk, actually, is a good source of potassium, but some of the others are not. So it really just depends on the milk and how it’s fortified. It depends on the brand.

Narrator: And that’s just it. Nutrients don’t just vary by type of milk, like almond or soy, but by brand, like Blue Diamond or Silk, and so do calories and fat. So the best way to choose the right milk is simple. Check out the label.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This video was originally published in March 2019.

Read the original article on Business Insider

I ate nothing but ‘healthy’ fast food for a week – here’s what happened

America has an obesity problem, but there are more 200,000 fast foods restaurants dotted throughout the country. Customers have been moving towards places with healthier menus and many traditional chains are adding items to address this. I tried eating these “healthy” fast foods for an entire week. I had every meal at McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Taco Bell, Burger King, Subway, Dunkin’ Donuts or Chick-fil-A. Following is a full transcript of the video. 

Kevin Reilly: Fast food is cheap and convenient. But hidden in between the burgers and tacos are some “healthy” options: salads, grilled chicken, yogurts, oatmeal, power burritos. Doesn’t sound too bad, right? I spent a week eating nothing but these “healthy” fast foods and I lost six-and-a-half pounds. But even though I lost about a pound a day, it didn’t really go well.

I live in New York City, a place with every possible food you could want. Eating healthy here, it’s a breeze. But across America, there are more than 200,000 fast food joints, and they’re bringing in more than $200 billion a year in sales. And no matter where you go, you’re never far from a place like McDonald’s or Taco Bell. But in recent years, consumers want better, healthier choices, and the traditional fast food places have been losing customers to those fast casual healthy options.

The rules were pretty simple: Eat every major meal at a national fast-food chain and stick to the healthy options. McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Burger King, Taco Bell, Dunkin’ Donuts, Subway, and Chick-fil-A; nothing but them for a week. Yeah, I lost almost seven pounds, but let’s take a close look at the numbers.

On a normal day, I’m eating around 2,500 calories. An adult man should be having about 2,400 to 2,600 calories a day. But on this fast food plan, my calories plummeted. Most of these meals came in under 400 calories, and that was one of my first problems. I’d eat and just a couple hours later, I was starving. And I had days when I didn’t eat more than 1,000 calories.

Now, some of these meals were really good. My favorite was this grilled chicken market salad from Chick-fil-A. It had blueberries, strawberries, apples; it was delicious and it was actually healthy. However, a lot of the other salads from Burger King, McDonald’s, and Wendy’s were loaded with salt, often more than 50% of what I needed for the entire day, from a salad. In fact, excess salt was a problem the entire week. I thought I had hit the jackpot with Taco Bell’s al Fresco menu. They take off all the cheese and mayo-based sauces and replace it with lettuce and pico de gallo. One night I got tacos, another night I got a power cantina burrito, and these were meals with more protein than usual. So, I felt like I was getting enough food. They were good, too good. It was all salt. In fact, just one burrito had almost as much salt as I needed in just one day. The American Heart Association says we should limit our sodium to about 2,300 milligrams a day, but the ideal is closer to 1,500 milligrams a day, especially for a person like me with high blood pressure. But if you look at my sodium intake, it was high every day, yet I was barely getting the calories I needed. If I wanted to keep the sodium down, I was starving. If I wanted to feel full, salt through the roof. You see, that’s an issue in the fast food industry. Wendy’s even acknowledges on their website that there’s going to be a trade-off between salt and flavor.

It was weird. I didn’t feel healthy at all throughout the week, even though I was eating healthy foods and losing weight. And on the last day, I had this massive headache that was just infuriating. These places, they’re supposed to be tasty, cheap, and convenient. But it wasn’t cheap. Every healthy option was expensive, but left me hungry. For eight grilled nuggets and this tiny kale salad at Chick-fil-A, $12. For the power Mediterranean salad at Wendy’s, it was almost $8, yet I could get a cheeseburger, nuggets, fries, and a soda for only $4. That brings me to another problem. Walk into McDonald’s and you get hit with that sweet, sweet french fry smell, and I had to get a salad.

Would I recommend this to anyone? Nope, unless you’re stuck on the road with no other options. Though there was a bright spot: breakfast at Subway. They have these egg-white-and-cheese sandwiches, which I got covered in spinach and peppers. And let me tell you, it was good. But after all this, I just want a cheeseburger.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This video was originally published in May 2018.

Read the original article on Business Insider