Posted by: Kara @ The Foodie Dietitian | November 11, 2010

Who’s counting (calories) anyways?

With technology on the rise and smart phones appearing in hands on every corner, it’s no surprise that more and more people are counting calories. When I reflect on smart phone apps that track calories, I find myself in a caloric dilemma.

On one hand, as people track the calories of what they eat, they are becoming more knowledgeable about the foods they eat and in turn hopefully begin to make healthy food choices. Phone apps are great for this reason. People are tuning into nutrition in a way they never have before, and it’s an easy and quick way to do so.

On the other hand, I never want to encourage clients to only count their calories. Sure, the equation to lose weight is calories in vs calories out, but eating healthy is more than just numbers. Calories alone do not dictate which foods are healthy and unhealthy. Also, sometimes counting calories can lead to obsessive dieting which isn’t going to help anyone. If you find yourself on your smart phone app more than 20 minutes per day, it’s time to lay off the calorie counting for a little while. Since there are so many people who are counting calories with smart phone apps and have no nutrition education to back up their efforts, I thought it would be helpful to get back to the basics, Nutrition 101 if you will.

Nutrition back to the basics:

  • Eat every 3-4 hours. You can cut back on calories but don’t cut back on your meals. If we go too long without eating, our bodies go into starvation mode which lowers our metabolism and makes it harder to burn calories. Our blood sugar can also drop too low, causing us to feel light-headed and ravenous at our next meal. Eating throughout the day ensures that our hunger is in check and our bodies are fueled and ready to go!
  • Include protein and fiber at each meal and snack. Protein is very important if you are trying to lose weight because it helps you maintain your muscle mass, something you definitely don’t want to lose along with your weight. Fiber and protein also help us to stay full and satisfied so that we don’t have to graze in between meals.
  • Snacks can be healthy! When I talk about snacks, I don’t mean cheesy puffs. I’m talking snacks loaded with good nutrition. Some examples: greek yogurt with fruit, hummus and veggies, cottage cheese and fruit, whole-wheat crackers with cheese, apple with nautral peanut butter, a handful of nuts….
  • Eat your fruits and veggies! Not only are fruits and veggies low in calories, loaded with vitamins and minerals, and packed with fiber, they also contain chronic disease fighting phytochemicals, such as antioxidants. Read more about phytochemicals here.
  • Whole grains are the way to go. Whether it be whole wheat bread, brown rice, quinoa, or whole wheat pasta, these foods are going to give you way more fiber and nutrients than its refined counterparts.
  • Lean and mean protein. When choosing proteins, go for the lean varieties. Chicken without the skin, fish, tofu, beans, and legumes are all excellent lean protein choices which are low in saturated fat. Eating protein foods that are lower in saturated fat can reduce the risk of weight gain and developing chronic disease.
  • Swear off the salt shaker! While salt has little to no calories, that doesn’t mean it’s okay for us to use liberally! Too much salt can lead to high blood pressure and increase the risk for heart disease and stroke. Sodium is in a lot of the foods we already eat, so try not to add salt to the foods you prepare. Switch it up and flavor your food with spices instead!
  • Why calorie counting isn’t the end-all-be-all: Take 100 calorie packs for example. They are a low-calorie snack which in theory would be awesome if you are counting calories. However, these 100 calorie babies are empty calories. They don’t contain fiber, protein, vitamins or minerals. So what happens? You’re going to eat 3 or 4 of these snack packs until you’re full and satisfied. Or, you’ll eat one and find yourself ravenous an hour later raiding the kitchen cabinet. Compare a 100 calorie snack pack to a 200 calorie snack such as a greek yogurt with a cup of fruit and you got yourself 14-20 grams protein, fiber, and loads of vitamins and minerals. And an added plus, you are satisfied until your next meal.

Nutrition is more than just calories, which is why for those of you using smart phone apps to track calories, these tips might be a good starting point for you to help plan your meals and snacks around. 

My post around calorie counting apps was inspired by my friend Larry who just launched a new app called PhotoCalorie. Check out their website and blog. Their motto “the easiest food journal on the planet.” The idea is that you enter in the foods you are eating separated by commas and multiplied by serving sizes, and then voila the nutrition information is at your hands before you eat. Their nutrition information is compiled from USDA’s database, various restaurants and food manufacturers. You can also take pictures of your foods too so you can keep track of what you’re eating visually as well. The process is short and sweet and the app is easy to use. PhotoCalorie’s blog provides education on how to use the app and answers FAQs. You can see an example of how meals are entered to the right on the snapshot of the screen.

Take pictures of the foods you eat.

Check the portion size reference to see how many portions you are eating.

If you are looking to download a calorie application for your smart phone, check out PhotoCalorie and see what you think. It is free to download and to search the database for nutrition information.  You can use their food journal as well to keep track of what you’re eating. The food journal is free for the first 30 days and then costs 4.95/month for additional use. If you start counting calories using a smart phone app, don’t forget you can always fall back on nutrition basics if you get stuck.

Peace, love, and food,


I was not paid by PhotoCalorie to promote their product.




  1. I do Weight Watchers but one thing I noticed was how obsessed I become about food while doing it. I would only think about food, points, calories, etc. It was totally unhealthy mind wise even though I was losing weight. Low point was always better. Now, not so much. I’d rather eat more and not be hungry two minutes later.

    I wonder if there is a Droid app.

  2. We are working on a Droid app now. Should be available shortly.

  3. Great simple tips on nutrition basics! Following those tips will do a lot for someone who is looking to improve their health.

    I met Larry at FNCE a few weeks ago and I’m very impressed by PhotoCalorie! I predict great things for this app 🙂

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