- Author: Brenda Roche
What does the research show?
Students at Cornell University took part in a study where they were given a mobile phone app and asked to take photos of anything they do or don’t do that might be considered good (such as taking the stairs) or bad for them (such as making a late-night fast food run). They uploaded these photos into the mobile app then rated them based on their healthfulness. They were asked to do this at least five times a day. They could all review their previous posts and a portion of the participants could view posts uploaded by their peers. Most participants reported increased health awareness and self-control at the end of the study, particularly among the group that could see photos taken by their peers. The study was only two weeks long, and didn’t lead to any real behavior change, but the researchers believe there is potential for more significant change after long-term use of the app.
Taking matters into my own hands…
Armed with a smartphone and some reusable shopping bags, I set out to my local grocery store to conduct a food shopping experiment of my own. Prior to going to the grocery store, I downloaded a few free apps onto my iPhone that I thought would be useful on this shopping expedition.
Since saving money on groceries is high on my list of priorities, I downloaded the Food on the Table app, which claims to be a better way to plan meals and save money. After filling out a short profile, the app helped me plan a meal, organize a grocery list and take advantage of in-store coupons within minutes. I chose to make the butternut squash and black bean enchiladas recipe, and navigated the grocery store with my cell phone in-hand to find all of the necessary ingredients. As I perused the tortilla display, I made use of another app that I downloaded, the Shop Well app, to help me choose the healthiest option among the multitude of tortillas available in the grocery store. With this app I could scan barcodes of the various tortillas and was given a personalized food score of each product based on a profile I filled out earlier (listing my health goals and any medical conditions). One package of tortillas turned up as a “medium” match for me. The app suggested another type of tortilla that would be a better match for my goals. Meanwhile, the Food on the Table app was telling me about a brand of tortillas that was on sale on that particular day. Of course they weren’t the same, so I opted for the healthier product over the on-sale product because the difference in price was marginal.
Next, I went home and prepared the meal following the directions on the app. After preparing the meal, I served up my plate of food and took a picture to upload into the Pic Healthy Photo Food Diary app. With this tool, I could upload my photo and rate how healthy (or unhealthy) my meal was, and let friends also be the judge (see pic on right). The idea is that friends can either cheer me on for making a healthy decision or call me out for a not-so-healthy meal choice. I’m still waiting for someone to rate my meal, but I can see how this could be fun and motivational if my friends were also participating, and we were all encouraging one another to reach our health and wellness goals.
I then used the Lose It! app to keep track of what I was going to eat and to determine the amount of calories in my meal. I entered every ingredient into the recipe section and came up with a calorie count and nutrient breakdown for the meal I was about to consume. Granted, it was a little tedious, but a great process that made me really think about what I was about to eat. If I continue to use this app, I will certainly think twice the next time I chow down on a big meal or snack.
The meal I chose to make ended up being far too spicy for my taste (if only the app rated the meal based on heat!). Despite this unfortunate setback, the process was educational – and dare I say FUN? It’s unlikely that I will go back to the grocery store and use my phone to scan products to identify healthy options (it’s far easier to use basic nutrition know-how to make these decisions – make half your grains whole, choose foods low in saturated fat, eat more fruits and vegetables, etc., etc). But I definitely enjoyed the menu planning app and appreciated being able to have new recipe ideas at my fingertips (even if my first choice was a bit of a disappointment!).
If you’ve made it a goal to eat healthier, exercise more and possibly lose weight in the New Year, then why not give one of the many mobile apps a try. Even better, get your friends and family involved and download apps together that allow you to motivate one another to stick to your goals. With all this technology at your fingertips, eating smarter may have just gotten a little easier!