So you have a new plan to lose weight or build your muscles, and you want to track your progress. You might consider a virtual diet and nutrition counselor to help you along the way.
But with so many apps and software programs on the market, you may find it difficult to choose one.
"I think the whole app thing has become the Wild West — there are too many apps and a lot of them are not very good," said Katherine Tallmadge, a registered dietitian and author of "Diet Simple." "Just like the diet-book industry, the diet-app industry has gotten out of control."
However, apps can be helpful once people have learnedabout the nutrients found in foods, and the new habits they should adopt, Tallmadge said. "It can be useful once you have your plan and you know it's healthy, sustainable and flexible," she said. "Then, you have the confidence and the knowledge to choose the right app for you." [7 Biggest Diet Myths]
A good diet needs to be flexible, to allow people a range of food choices, Tallmadge said. Your eating plan should be sustainable and healthy, and one that science has shown will improve your health and lengthen your life span, Tallmadge said. For example, a diet too high in protein or too low in calories may not be a sustainable, healthy option for losing weight, whereas a Mediterranean-style diet could be a good eating plan, Tallmadge said.
For beginners, asking nutrition experts for their opinion on any app you are considering may be a good way to make sure the app contains healthy diet plans and is based on scientific data.
"Some of these formulas for determining people's caloric needs are really wrong, and they give people either too high or too low numbers," Tallmadge said. "A professional can help people come up with those basic numbers and basic plan, and then maybe an app could be quite useful."
A good nutrition software program should also encourage exercise and keep track of people's physical activity, Tallmadge said. "Anything that would help people change their habits, encourage them to monitor their eating and their exercise, and weigh themselves regularly can be useful."
Live Science's sister site Top Ten Reviews has checked out some of the top nutrition software on the market. Here are their top three picks:
#1 DietMaster 2100
DietMaster 2100 is a program designed to help you monitor your diet and calorie intake. It contains nutritional information for thousands of types of food, and catalogs your recipes and tells you which meals are suitable to meet your daily nutrition requirements. One of the advantages of this software over other programs is that it registers which foods you eat frequently, so you don't have to search through the entire nutrition database every time.
DietMaster keeps track of your caloric intake each day, and gives you advice on what types of exercises you can do to burn the extra calories.
The program has more features than standard nutrition programs do, yet its straightforward design makes entering your daily food consumption simple. The Meals screen shows each meal and associated nutrients. You can easily navigate between specific foods, favorite foods and the calendar view. You can also use dietitian-approved meal plans.
#2 Weightmania Pro
This program emphasizes fitness, and features more extensive exercise-tracking options than other nutrition software programs offer.
Weightmania tracks your weight, daily nutrition and fitness goals, and gives you regular updates on your progress. It provides tips on how to improve your diet and exercise routine. The food database is extensive, customizable and wrapped in a clean user interface.
One disadvantage of Weightmania is that although you can add the nutrient information from a recipe, you can't add the recipe itself.
Weightmania Pro is an excellent choice if you want to balance your exercise regimen with a strong selection of nutrition features.
#3 Nutrinote 2010
Nutrinote is a nutrition planner that helps you design a nutrition program, track and control your daily diet, and evaluate your dietary goals. Nutrinote is especially helpful for people with special dietary needs — for example, people who have celiac disease or diabetes.
The software is easy to use and gives step-by-step directions for first-time users. One shortcoming of this software, however, is that users can only reach technical support via email, not telephone.
Nutrinote's food-and-recipe database isn't as large as those on other software, but it includes more dietary information than most other programs. Also, if you're unable to find a recipe in the database, Nutrinote offers an Add Recipe feature that allows you to input all of the necessary information, including the total calories and the daily percentage of various nutrients.