Saturday, December 08, 2012

Healthy Apps?

     Have you thoroughly explored your smart phones' capabilities? On the one hand, the app store or market can be a confusing place with so many seemingly useful products. On the other hand, with the right applications downloaded, they can be your smart health buddy too.

Firstly a few pointers to find a good a health app:

1)  Don't get sucked into the calorie counting trap. All counting calories really does is confuse you into thinking you are making healthier choices. Calories don't tell the whole story. For example a diet soda might be low in calories but it doesn't contain any nutrients either. In fact carbonated beverages contain phosphoric acid which is extremely harmful to teeth and bone health!

2)  Look for a diary / journal feature which allows you to track your food intake daily and also review the week that was. This allows you to see how much healthy and unhealthy foods you consume and at what frequency. Do this for a month and it will be eye opening. One unhealthy item every other day can undo your fitness efforts for the entire week!

3)  Most apps are tailor made for the international market. Very few actually have data for Indian foods, our methods of cooking and cuisine combinations. Also, non–Indian food pyramids don't take into account that carbs are a big part of our diet. Ensure the app you choose has information that you can use.

4)  Similarly, food bar-code scanners which tell you whether a food is healthy or not while you are shopping are not of much use in India. They do not include information for most processed Indian foods and actually waste your time in the store. You may spend most of your time stuck in the processed food aisles while you should actually be spending more time in the fresh produce (unbar-coded) sections.

5)  If the app has a BMI calculator, ensure the data is for Indians. BMI is gotten by dividing your weight by your height(in metres)squared. You should know that the normal BMI range for an Indian is 18.5 – 23. 23 – 25 is the overweight range and anything beyond 25 is obese! This data is according to the Indian Health Ministry. For non – Asians, the obesity cut off is 30 which is due to their larger frame size and structure.

6)  Fitness and exercise apps offer a variety of activities for you as well as tracking options. It's very easy to harm yourself while performing exercises without proper supervision or training. Be cautious and if possible take the advice of a professional. Apps which let you track your workout / run / hike / cycling session are preferable and can be great motivators!

Some applications that have useful features:

For iPad,iPhone

iFood Diary – an app which lets your track your food consumption.

Smash your Food – a game for kids to learn about nutrition promoted by Michelle Obama herself. A limitation is that it is for the American context.

Food Trivia – Healthy Eating Facts – again for the American context but with some useful general information.

For Android phones-

Endomondo Sports Tracker – useful for those who run, walk, trek, cycle, swim regularly.

MyFitnessPal – this app has a useful journal feature with a significant Indian foods database and allows you to track your weight.

Watch out for: My Food Wizard, an app developed by St John's Research Institute, Bangalore. It won the 'Aap ka App' contest by Datawind recently.

This article was published in 'Life in Adyar', October 20, 2012.

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