Weight-Loss Software > Diet Tracker
Finding the Best Diet Tracker for You
By Terry Dunkle, DietPower Editor-In-Chief*
Which diet tracker should you choose? That depends partly on your purpose. Is it primarily weight loss, nutrition-or both? And would you rather have a free diet tracker that sacrifices performance and privacy, or a $20 to $50 model that does a lot more, does it lightning-fast, and protects your diet records from prying eyes?
The two main types of diet trackers these days are:
- Websites. These let you track your calories and a few other nutrients at no charge. They usually force you to look at ads, however. They also take your email address, which they may rent to companies who sell supplements, exercise equipment, and such.
- Software programs. You can get these from the Web, but they don't operate on the Web-they install on your computer's hard drive. Most are faster, more powerful, and more versatile than Web-based programs.
Regardless of the type you choose, here are some things to look for in a diet tracker:
Accuracy in a Diet Tracker
Some diet trackers are notoriously inaccurate-especially Web-based trackers that let users contribute foods to their database. These make you vulnerable to everybody else's typing errors.
Some also calculate their advice in simplistic ways. As a test, see if the calorie budget that your tracker calculates for you matches the one from DietPower's calorie budget calculator.
Speed in a Diet Tracker
Nothing is more frustrating than having to wait five or ten seconds every time you ask your diet tracker to find a food you've eaten. Choose a program that can do this in one second or less. (Speed is the Achilles' heel of online diet trackers, especially if you have dialup Internet service instead of cable or DSL.)
Ideally, your diet tracker will display, on the same screen as your food log, a scoreboard showing your calorie intake and expenditures; what percentage of your calories came from fat, carbohydrate, and protein; and other indicators of your overall nutrition. A diet tracker that doesn't have this feature is like a car without a dashboard.
Versatility in a Diet Tracker
The simplest diet trackers monitor calories only. More sophisticated trackers give you real-time knowledge of not only your macronutrients (fat, carbohydrate, protein, and alcohol), but disease-critical nutrients such as cholesterol and trans fat (important in heart disease), folic acid (birth defects), sodium and potassium (blood pressure), calcium (osteoporosis), and vitamins A, C, E, and selenium (cancer).
If exercise is important to you, choose a diet tracker that also calculates calories burned in physical activity and adds them back into your budget so you can eat more food and still reach your goal weight.
Intelligence in a Diet Tracker
All diet trackers describe how your eating affects your weight and nutrition, but a few actually prescribe what to eat or do.
One program, DietPower's Real-Time Eating CoachT, shows which of your favorite foods is best for your overall nutrition right now. To guarantee achieving your goal weight on your deadline, it also adjusts your daily calorie budget to fluctuations in your metabolism and water loss or retention from high sodium intake, warm-weather exercise, or menstruation.
As a minimum, make sure your diet tracker "knows" that a heavier body burns more calories performing the same exercise as a lighter body. That's an indicator that it has a fair degree of built-in intelligence.
Guarantees in a Diet Tracker
Don't spend money on a program that won't issue a no-hassle refund if you return it within 30 days. Look for a diet tracker that you can try out free for at least a week-preferably two weeks or a month, so you can see how it handles weekend overeating and other cyclical factors. (DietPower® is completely free; so you don't need a trial version.)
*Terry Dunkle is a 30-year veteran medical journalist and consumer advocate who serves as CEO and chief editor at DietPower, Inc., a leading maker of nutrition and weight-loss software.