Tracking Your Food Intake: On-line Tools

By Guest Author

Everybody likes free stuff.

You don’t need to pay for tools to help your weight loss journey – as long as you know where to look.

Weight loss tools are suitable for people who like numbers, and like keeping track of things. Some of us prefer to just “wing it”.

Here are 10 of the best on-line tools for weight loss.

 

Sparkpeople

It’s hard to argue with 12 million people.

That’s how many have used SparkPeople – a free web service that offers more than many similar paid services.  The site has everything (food and weight tracking, exercise demos and plans, and a lot of social networking) – in fact so many features that it’s quite overwhelming.

The success of the program lead to a book being published: The Spark.

Fitocracy

Fitocracy is a web app (iPhone app also available) that is strictly for fitness goals.

Covering all kinds of workout and exercise tracking you also get points, levels, challenges, and… quests! Turning fitness into one big social game.

Fitday

A free service similar to Sparkpeople, Fitday also offers premium services (ad-free). A very popular tracker.

Freedieting’s weight loss calculators


Quick and simple: the calculators at freedieting cover most things you’ll need — daily calories, macro-nutrient levels. Even has calculators if you are pregnant or breastfeeding. BONUS: Calorie calculator does metric as well as US units and handles zig-zagging calories.

We even published a success story: Russell lost 80 pounds using these calculators.

Slimkicker

Slimkicker is a newer web app that “gamifies” the dieting process.

You can set challenges (e.g. no snacks after dinner) and get awarded points and compete with others. You can also track foods and calories.

MyFitnessPal

MyFitnessPal is a big community site offering all kinds of logging and tracking for food and exercise.

Also has apps for iPhone, Android, Blackberry, and Windows phones.

 Daily Challenge

Not strictly for weight loss – but for anything where you want to change.

Daily Challenge helps you set well… daily challenges… It’s fully integrated with social media and comes in all flavors (web app, smartphone app, iPad etc).

Lose It!

Lose It offers recipes, social networking, goals, diet and exercise tracking.

So much choice! What does one do?

 

Swole.me

In it’s beta stage – Swole.me is a web app that attempts to dream up a meal plan for you based on your daily calorie allowance.

Difficult to do when there are so many factors governing our food choices – but worth a look.

Bonus…

Other notable mentions:

  • Superbetter – A game the helps you to get better at tackling challenges.
  • RunKeeper – 6 million users. Lots of running.
  • MakeMyPlate – Entirely visual approach – drag and drop foods onto your plate and it does the rest.
  • DailyBurn – monthly subscription but offers access to personal trainers and some stunning workout video guides.
  • DailyPlate – free diet tracker from livestrong.com
  • Nutrition Data – Large nutrition database.
  • Calorie King – Large diet tracker.

 

Suggested improvements for some of the above

  • User location
    One major change I’d suggest is that the information provided takes into account the user’s location. Once the preferences have been updated and a country selected, the lists of foods & drinks would default to those available in the chosen region. Measurements would also be noted in metric / imperial dependent upon location.
  • Generic foods
    When searching for food items, the default seems to be for highly-processed meals, rather than their generic equivalents. To get an idea of just how awkward it can be to find ‘real food’, try looking for something simple such as a ham sandwich.
  • Learning the foods you like
    The simpler these sites become, the more likely they are to be used regularly. One thing that would speed up the daily entry of data would be a question or two, based on your previous consumption. Something along the lines of ‘You usually have steamed rice with this. Would you like me to add it for you?’ whenever you go to add a chicken breast or a piece of fish.

How big is a portion?

All of these sites have one thing in common – the notion of a standard portion size for a particular food. You’ll quickly see that they refer to a serving of green peas, a handful of almonds or a cup of green tea. Just how big is a serving/handful/cup? Have a look at these :

 

35 Comments

  1. Thomas

    Fit day app for iPhone does not keep track of fat consumption

    Reply
  2. Mat

    I’ve created a simple iPhone app to help track your diet. Just use the app to snap a photo of what you eat and you can review it in a timeline based list. I hope it helps! Cheers!

    https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/my-diet-tracker/id598849202?ls=1&mt=8

    Reply
  3. venkat

    Thanks! You should get one, it will change your life! hahaha. It’s actually a lot of fun to use.

    Reply
  4. Darcy

    These are some great options! I tried My Fitness Pal and Lose It but could never really get into them. Honestly they felt like microsoft excel spreadsheet on my iphone.

    I found a new app that looks amazing! It’s http://www.ThinDish.com and it lets you keep a visual dairy of all the food you eat! It works kinda like the rest of the calorie counters but instead of just logging food you can take a picture of your meal. It’s great to have a picture diary of all the food you eat.

    Reply
  5. Jennie

    Great review!

    I tried Makemyplate. I was curious about the visual, must admit it took me by surprise! It is fun and easy! And it’s cool to see other’s people plates – I got some great ideas for my meals there.

    Reply
  6. Dixie_Amazon

    I used SparkPeople off and on since 2006. I recently started using http://www.myfitnesspal.com
    It is a much faster site with an extensive database.

    Reply
  7. C L Peecher

    The link isn’t working. I’m interested in vitamin, mineral, amino and antioxidant info. Any help is greatly appreciated.
    Thx.

    Reply
  8. Kape

    I find a lot of these online tools too complicated, slow, with way too many useless features, and generally not user friendly. I came across eatingoutonadiet.com which is the easiest to use nutrition calculator. There’s absolutely no bells and whistles on this site and that’s what makes it so easy to use. No account registration or login required; you simply select or search for the food you want to add, click the add icon and you’re done. There’s no page refresh and all items’ nutrition value is added up in the familiar table. The only downside is that it only has restaurant menus, so you can’t add generic items.

    Reply
  9. Kim

    Okay, I know this post is really old but Tweet What You Eat (www.tweetwhatyoueat.com) is a GREAT way to easily track calories using Twitter. 🙂 Hope it helps someone! The only reason I slipped off this wagon was because I fell off the whole diet/exercise wagon (again). The TWYE interface is really just too easy to drop, especially if you like to text message.

    Reply
  10. kevin

    Very good review! There’s a lot of great tools out there.

    You might also want to add another tracker. This one is pretty new though and is completely made in flash. Very fast if you get bored of logging food with your standard reloading webpage. Here is the link: http://www.healthymechanics.com

    Reply
  11. Healthy Weight Loss Girl

    Thanks for all of the great advice. That will certainly make calorie counting easier.

    Reply
  12. johnr

    If you click my name you can check out another good calorie counting website, it has a lot of really nice graphs, tons of detailed information beyond just vitamin and mineral intake (covers all amino acid intake and antioxidants as well). It also makes reccomendations of better food choices based on what you are eating using nutritional density values.

    Reply
  13. Susan

    I have been using SparkPeople since January 2007 and LOVE it…granted I never used any other weightloss websites before so I can’t compare, but SP has everything I could ask for and it has been a major part of my success. I use the nutrition tracker to plan in advance what I’ll eat every day and my only gripe is that if I want to change what I’ve already entered, I have to delete each item separately and wait for the page to refresh before deleting the next item. I wish it had boxes to delete as many items as you want at once, like in an email inbox!

    Reply
  14. Diyet

    I love Calorie King – the downloadable software version. The Aussie version has just about everything I eat, and it’s easy enough to add custom foods if it doesn’t – plus the “Saved Meals” function is a godsend! Unfortunately I tend to get a bit obsessive over the daily graphs – “Based on today’s intake, you can expect to lose approximately __kgs over the next month”. Which can make me eat less – in the bad sense.

    Reply
  15. Lex

    I’m a staffer at The Daily Plate, and I appreciate the kind words you wrote about the site. I wanted to mention two things that may help users of our site:

    1. Add “generic” to your search to limit your results to generic items, instead of store / branded items: See http://www.thedailyplate.com/nutrition/search/?q=generic+ham+sandwich

    2. We do let you track other fields (carbs, fiber, protein, cholesterol, etc) without upgrading to paid membership: They’re all tracked on MyPlate, for free.

    And I love the feature about “You frequently eat X with Y. Would you like to either add Y to your plate or create a new meal with both foods?” It’s a little tricky to implement, but certainly worth the effort! It’s been added to our future feature list.

    -Lex

    Reply
  16. oceans11

    I started tracking my food online, but it’s a hassle. Long lists in pulldown menus, going back and forth from page to page, etc.

    I use a notebook.

    Reply
  17. Ayesha

    I’ve used Fitday for the last 2 1/2 months and it has worked great with me. I don’t mind the ‘manual’ work of adding in what I eat every day, rather I find it ‘fun’ to do so. It has helped me track my daily caloric input and has taught me portion control. And I’ve lost weight while not starving myself to achieve my goals. I find it quite simple to use now and probably will keep on using it even after I’ve reached my goal weight.

    Reply
  18. Lori

    I am a long time DietPower user for logging and member of CalorieKing for the community and forums which are excellent. I also use SparkPeople for some of their tools.

    CalorieKing is not just an on-line database, it offers Daily Meal Tracking to its members.

    Reply
  19. Mo

    I use FitDay; it works great. Initially you have to enter in a lot of stuff, but after about two weeks you have most of your foods saved, and it really doesn’t take much time at all. I like the graphs too.

    FitDay is really easy, and is much easier for me than doing it by hand. I put in the food, it tracks calories, fats, proteins, carbs, etc. It has helped my wife and I to stay on track an really get a good idea of what we are eating and how much.

    Once again, any of these will work, you just have to use them. I haven’t tried the others, but this one works well, is easy to use, and is a no-brainer.

    Reply
    • Thomas

      If you a looking for a fat consumption for a day or a week, I can’t see how you can get that from fit day

      Reply
  20. Charity Froggenhall

    Thanks for the rundown! I just tried out Daily Plate. It is very attractive, and lots of different brands that I use (even healthy ones like Whole Foods). However, what I really want to see is how I’m doing on carbs, fat and protein, and you have to pay to get those features that you get on Fitday for free. Daily Plate is pretty, but free Fitday is rather compelling.

    Reply
  21. Mark of CalorieLab

    The problem you mentioned about not being able to find generic foods is a tough one to solve. Normally in a search application you sort the results by relevancy, but we’ve found that the search keywords that users input into a calorie search site frequently don’t give enough detail to do any sort of reasonable relevancy ranking.

    What we ended up doing is to output all matching results, on a single page, grouped into similar foods: generic at the top, then packaged brand foods, then restaurants. Generic and brands are organized in alphabetical categories, and restaurants are alphabetized. (If we think you may be looking for an entire restaurant menu, we put a link to that at the top above generics.)

    The beauty of this is that generics are first, but in a search for brands, there will generally be no generic results, so what you’re looking for is up top. And in a search for restaurant food, you can just jump right to their menu.

    The results pages can be long, and we realize our site might not be ideal for dial-up users, but for many people just getting everything up there to browse through, subcategorized, on a single page, with no next-page-click-click-clicking required, is a nice solution.

    One reason that we can present data this way is that we are able to keep the number of foods down by having no duplicate data: all restaurant foods are entered and updated by our staff from the source and all packaged foods are tracked by UPC number.

    Reply
  22. Amy

    I love Calorie King – the downloadable software version. The Aussie version has just about everything I eat, and it’s easy enough to add custom foods if it doesn’t – plus the “Saved Meals” function is a godsend! Unfortunately I tend to get a bit obsessive over the daily graphs – “Based on today’s intake, you can expect to lose approximately __kgs over the next month”. Which can make me eat less – in the bad sense.

    Reply
  23. Spectra

    I like FitDay for keeping track of calories, mostly because it has a list of “favorite foods” so I don’t have to keep looking for a certain food if I eat it often.

    Reply
  24. Deirdre

    I am so with you on the generic food suggestion! It’s discouraging to be faced with all those foods I shouldn’t be eating every time I try to enter a meal. I often end up having to approximate something basic with something from a fast food restaurant. I feel like it almost encourages people to just use those processed foods, as it’s so much easier to calculate them.

    Reply
  25. Erica

    I believe if you look at the site- that number is based on the AMOUNT OF DAILY CALORIES OF FOOD PURCHASED- and doesn’t reflect the amount of food that people throw away on a daily basis. I live alone for example- and as a single person there is no way that I can buy and consume packages of certain foods (like vegetables, or chicken) and cook & eat them all before they spoil- they just don’t come in small enough packages! Only now are single serving packages being introduced to the point in which a large % of my food doesn’t spoil before I have to go shopping again. When you go out to eat… how much to you leave on your plate? Have you purchased a new product and thought it was junk after who bites and trashed an entire 16 container of something? There are sooo many reasons this number could be so high. Remember it takes only 50 extra calories per day to gain 5 lbs a year (20 lbs in 4 years)… and if people are eating 1500 extra per day they would be at least 156lbs over weight- not 15-40! This number is WACK!

    Reply
  26. Heather

    I like DietPower the best so far as appeal and functionality… but have switched to Spark People for the community feature– and, big plus, the ability to “share” or make public your food and exercise logs.

    Reply
  27. Quig

    Hi all,
    The other day I was reading comments on here on another topic and someone mentioned Sparkpeople. I’ve been using it ever since, it has really got me going. I of course love the fact that it’s free, although I’m assuming these other sites are too.

    My daughter joined Weight Watchers and from what she says their site is very informational and supportive, but of course the foods are given in points as that’s their program. I’ll have to look at these other sites now.

    Pam

    Reply
  28. Ann

    I used sparkpeople for about two weeks. It is nice to be able to track things like protein, carbs, fat, fiber and sodium (or any number of other things you’d like to add) without as much hassle. But even when I did it I found out I tend to be in perfectly normal ranges most days (though one pizza binge day told me how quickly you can fly out of that sodium zone). The problem is, I’m not usually in front of a computer when I eat and it’s a big hassle to try to remember when I’m there again. I find a notebook’s a lot easier for me (though I often forget that too … what did I eat for dinner last Thurs?)

    Reply
  29. trick

    I’ve began using Daily Plate about 6 months and have tested out all the other varieties. I agree it is the best of the lot (It taught me how to remain at 1400 calories a day), but it does require a lot of manual effort and the new features they keep adding are not helping the application to become more user friendly. I could live with the fuzzy search results, but the saved meals feature is the big shortcoming. You can’t create recipes or easily manage a list of meals longer than 20. Ultimately, I will stop using it because it doesn’t get easier to use with time. It remains a difficult manual process, which is unfortunate, because it is the one site I wish would remain part of my routine.

    Reply
  30. Entangled

    I use calorie count and am actually trying to “quit” using it. I think these are great, great resources for people who don’t know the nutritional content of food (and I certainly know a lot more than when I started), but for me tracking is a very, very bad idea. My nutritionist refuses to suggest I keep track, since it’s pretty obvious that I do about the same on my own, but with less anxiety.

    My problem with tracking is that I start feeling immense guilt if I eat a cup and a half of sliced apple or unsweetened oatmeal or something instead of a cup. I feel like the total needs to be lower than it is, because who knows what will happen later in the day and if I’ll end up eating out somewhere where I can’t help but eat a lot of calories. I inevitably end up spending most of the day so hungry (there is only so often my body believes that fibrous vegetables and water will fill it up) and being insatiable by the end of the day.

    It’s not even that I’m eating at starvation levels when I do this, or starving and then binging. It’s partly that I don’t distribute my eating efficiently throughout the day and partly that I see other women and girls my height sustaining much lower weights (which may or may not be their natural set points) on daily allowances that would starve me. I may be short, but I was blessed (cursed?) with a ton of bone and muscle and 1200-1500 calories a day is near impossible most days.

    Yet as soon as I start logging and/or keeping careful track, I lose the ability to listen to my body and feel like I need validating every time I get hungry and eat.

    I do agree that for a lot of people, c-c is a great site though.

    Reply
  31. Linds

    There’s also CC+ (cc.about.com), it has a more dynamic layout than the regular Calorie-Count site, and the forums are integrated with normal CC, so you can use CC+ without losing any of the community.

    Reply
  32. Kery

    I use FitDay, but I admit that I’m really slipping out of it–of any kind of logging website/software, actually. It’s easier for me to track my calories in a paper notebook I can take with me everywhere I go. Moreover, all those sites are geared toward a US base, and to be honest, as a person living in France, I find this incredibly bothering: how many grams are in a cup? What’s a cup anyway? And a ‘fl. oz’? And a serving? Do I dare trust the notion of ‘american serving’? Is it the same as what we call a serving in France?

    It’s already annoying enough that I have to log that stuff, so I don’t really wish for the mental gymnastics to convert everything in the metric system. Maybe if I were to find a website that would take one’s country into account, yes, I’d more easily revert back to it…

    This said, FitDay and DailyPlate still come first on my own list. They ARE nice to use.

    Reply
  33. psychsarah

    I use Sparkpeople. I like that I can enter foods they don’t have included manually, and the food groupings option is great for the situation described above i.e. cereal, milk and fruit or my coffee with milk and sugar. There is a good variety of generic foods and take-out or brand name options. It also has the option of tracking fitness and other health goals, communicating with a community and lots of information available in articles etc. I would recommend it! My only frustration is the lack of standardization when it comes to defining serving sizes. Sometimes you can enter ounces, other times grams, other times units like (1 large carrot-how do I know its a “large” carrot?) A minor issue I find, especially since its a free site!

    Reply
  34. The Shrinking Knitter

    I use CalorieKing, because they offer a standalone package for Mac users. I’m on dial-up (no high-speed available where I live), and it was a big hassle having to dial in every time I wanted to log a meal or an exercise session.

    The downside of CK, as you pointed out about other systems, is that so much of the food database is packaged or prepared foods. Most of my meals are made from scratch. All in all, though, that’s a minor complaint for me. I really like the program.

    Reply