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An App a Day Keeps the Doctor Away

10 programs that support healthy eating, from calorie-counting to detecting hidden ingredients

By Linda Bernstein | August 17, 2013
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Linda Bernstein has written hundreds of articles for dozens of magazines and newspapers, writes the blog GenerationBsquared and teaches social media at the Columbia University School of Journalism.

Like many women of Ashkenazi Jewish descent over the age of 50, I no longer consider dairy my BFF. Gone are the days when lunch was a scoop of cottage cheese and the best low-cal snack came from a frozen yogurt shop.
 
It took two years of stomach cramps for me to accept that I, like my mother before me, am lactose-intolerant, meaning I cannot tolerate milk products — or molasses, lima beans or beets, which contain similar sugars
 
You can buy over-the-counter pills that contain enzymes to help digest thse sugars. But even a fistful of them won’t allow my tummy to handle butter-rich piecrusts and pastry dough. On my rare baking binges, I have tried to use margarine instead of butter. The results have been disappointing at best.
 
(MORE: Milk Alternatives: Are They Really Better for You, or Is It Hype?)
 
Apps for Healthy Eating Choices
 
Google Play and the iTunes store are brimming with apps that can help us eat better or work around food allergies. These 10 do everything from count calories to insure we don’t purchase endangered fish.
 
1. Substitutions
Platform: Apple iPhone and iPad ($0.99)
Handy in the supermarket as well as the kitchen, this app offers alternatives for foods you wish to avoid. It also gives tips for ingredients you can swap in a pinch if you’re in the middle of cooking something and realize you’re missing a key item. (Google Play has a similar app for $0.99.)

2. Fooducate
Platform: Android, Apple iPhone (free  $9.99, depending on version)
I can read a few different languages, but the nutrition information on food labels is not one of them. And I know I’m not alone. This app lets you scan the barcode of a product or type in its name (or a kind of food, like “banana”) to uncover its total calories, fat, sodium and other ingredients. It also “scores” the food for healthiness and lets you know if the smoothie that advertises itself as super-wholesome is actually packed with calories.
 
(MORE: Don't Believe Everything You Read on Food Labels)

3. Seafood Watch From the Monterey Bay Aquarium
Platform: Android, Apple iPhone (free)
I used to have a laminated list of “ocean friendly” fish, which I tried to remember to bring with me whenever I went to the market. More often than not, I’d forget it. This app makes eco-consciousness a no-brainer. In addition to offering alternatives to fish on the “avoid” list, Seafood Watch has a new feature that lets you add names and locations of restaurants that serve sustainable seafood.
 
Fish is good for us. This app is good for the fish. What goes around comes around.
 
4. True Food
Platform: Android, Apple iPhone and iPad (free)
According to the nonprofit Center for Food Safety, more than 70 percent of all packaged foods on our supermarket shelves contain genetically modified ingredients — GMIs — and in the USA, GMOs (the O is for “organisms”) don’t need to be labeled.
 
There is some debate about how dangerous genetically modified foods may be for our bodies and the environment. But if you want to avoid these products, you’ll appreciate True Food. The app lists “green” foods (which do not contain modified ingredients) and “red” foods (which do). Click on a tab and you can join up with anti-GMI activists to protest companies that make or sell “red” products. You can also locate stores that refuse to carry anything with GMOs.
 
(MORE: 10 Top Wellness Apps to Meet Your Health Goals)
 
5. Harvest App
Platform: Apple iPhone ($1.99)
Did you know that a yellow spot on the bottom of a watermelon means it ripened on the vine in the sun? I didn’t — until I found this app that helps select fresh produce. An alphabetical directory gives tips for identifying more than 100 ripe edibles grown on trees, vines or in the ground. The app also gives such valuable storage tips as not to wash strawberries until you’re ready to eat them.
 
6. Is That Gluten Free?
Platform: Apple iPhone and iPad ($7.99)
In the world of mobile apps, this one is bit pricey. But if you have celiac disease and get seriously ill when you accidentally eat something with gluten, it’s worth every penny. In response to a flood of complaints about the incompleteness of the previous version, this latest one lists nearly 16,000 items, which are searchable by name or by category. Users can add their own items and the company will then verify the information.
 
7. Locavore
Platform: Android, Apple iPhone (free)
I love the way this app helps me find local produce and in-season food at farmers markets, farm stands and groceries. You can also post directly to Facebook with this app, so your friends can share the food fun.
 
8. Calorie Counter and Diet Tracker by MyFitnessPal
Platform: Android, BlackBerry, Apple iPhone and iPad (free)
Anyone who has shed pounds on Weight Watchers can tell you the power of the program lies not just in what you eat or what you don’t eat. Community support is a big part of the success formula. That’s the beauty of this app. Not only does it come with a handy food diary and access to calorie counts for more than 3 million foods, it lets you set fitness goals. The best part is the encouragement from the built-in social network, where you connect with others, post your updates and feel all the virtual pats on the back.
 
9. Allergy Guard
Platform: Apple iPhone ($0.99)
It never occurred to me that a friend couldn’t eat milk chocolate — until I realized it contains cow's milk, to which she is severely allergic. For people with food allergies, this app could literally be a lifesaver. 

It allows you to look the ingredients in more than 2,000 common foods. Some of the listings are “name brand” items, like Taco Bell seasoning — helpful when you’re eating out. The app downloads the data onto your phone, so you have easy access even when out of 3-4G or Wi-Fi range. Another nice aspect: You can use a free version if you don’t mind ads and want to input only your own allergy data (instead of creating profiles for other family members or friends).
 
10. Superfoods
Platform: Apple iPhone, iPad (free)
We’ve all heard about nutritional powerhouses that can boost our immune systems and memory, ward off disease and give us more energy. But if you, like me, need reminders about which foods to stock in the larder, this guidebook to healthful eating helps you make smart shopping purchases. Spend some time reading through their articles (e.g., “Superfoods for Your Brain”) for in-depth information about the benefits of particular items, like açai or pomegranate juice. The “deals” tab links you to shopping specials. At present, most are in the United Kingdom, but more American bargains are being added.