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Top Food, Weight Loss and Nutrition ‘Apps’...

Whether you have an Apple or an Android phone … it’s hard to do without ‘apps.’ A mobile application, (mobile app) is a software application designed to run on mobile or portable devices such as smart phones, tablet computers, etc. They are usually operated by the owner of the mobile operating system, such as Apple, Google, Windows (think Apple App store, Google Play and Windows Phone store). There are free apps and those that must be purchased. After downloading the software, you can use the ‘app.’ Initially designed to increase general productivity and enhance information retrieval, apps now cover games, music, banking, etc.

There are dozens of food, nutrition, weight loss and fitness/exercise apps designed to help you live a healthier life. Before downloading anything that looks interesting consider that doing so means info overload. Interested in knowing which are the best according to registered dietitians (RDs)? Check these picks out for October and look for regular bi-monthly updates for new options:

SparkRecipes: Easy-to-use, offers thousands of healthy recipes that you can categorize and organize according to various criteria, such as cuisine, occasion, dietary needs…you can save favorite recipes and convert common cooking measures. Cons: nutrition facts for recipes are user-generated and may not be correct/reliable. Platform: Apple, Android & Blackberry

iCookbook Diabetic: Summary: from the editors of Diabetic Cooking (and the original iCookbook app), contains over 500 recipes sorted by category (30-minute meals, vegetarian, slow-cooker, low-carb, etc). Offers a tool to scale ingredients to change recipe yield (portions), also offers  nutrition analysis and dietary exchanges for each recipe. Platform: Apple

Fooducate Nutrition Scanner: Summary: Perhaps not a stand-alone app for overall better nutrition but a nifty tool nonetheless and a great companion to a nutrition plan. Fooducate allows you to scan a food’s UPC and it will tell you the nutrition facts (and more…such as if the sodium level is dangerous, for instance). It ‘grades’ the food relative to its alternatives and even helps you to pick a healthier selection (say, for a protein bar). Overall, you can improve your food choices. Platform: Apple, Android

Calorie Counter MyNetDiary: Summary: Weight loss/management involves tracking what you take in calorie-wise. Apps are useful tools for taking some of the work out of calorie-counting. This app is a useful nutrition aid as it tracks your calorie intake, AND your exercise to help take the guesswork out of your calorie balance for better weight management. Charts and graphs provide feedback on your progress. Like Fooducate, you can scan the bar code of packaged food OR type the first few letters of the name of a specific dish to search from over 420,000 foods contained in the database. Platform: Apple, Android

Food Tripping: Summary: A great food finder for your vicinity….locates everything from small business food artisans to national food and market chains. Customizable search results based on categories such as  farmers markets, coffee/tea, juice joints, microbreweries and vegan/vegetarian options. Businesses are searchable by name, location and category. Platform: Apple, Android


Holiday Eating…low-calorie appetizers

Thanksgiving is right around the corner, literally. Every year it comes around the same time…yet we seem to be surprised and unprepared. The plan was to get into better shape and lose a few pounds before the holiday season…right? It’s not just about one particular day or meal… it’s the whole season, which is full of goodies and leftovers. Combine that with less than optimal weather for a majority of the U.S. (discouraging outdoor exercise) and the result is weight gain. Average holiday weight gain is 5 to 10 lbs. It’s no myth! It takes 3,500 calories beyond what your body requires for weight maintenance to gain 1 lb. That might sound like a lot but it’s not…Did you know that a full holiday meal, with appetizers, cocktails, a loaded main plate and dessert can weigh in at over 3,500 calories? Grab a couple of ounces of cheese and a handful of butter crackers and you’re taking in roughly 300 calories. Add two heavy-handed Scotch cocktails and 1/2 cup mixed nuts and you’re looking at up to 800 calories … and you haven’t sat down for that big meal yet. It might be a little late to change the whole meal or put in a special request with your favorite aunt … but you can be proactive. Bring or make low-calorie appetizers and swap out a cocktail for sparkling water with a fruit wedge. You’ll end up taking in fewer calories overall.

Appetizers – Low-calorie suggestions

Remember, appetizers are small ‘bites’ of food that are meant to tide you over until your meal. Of course, you can skip them altogether but you don’t have to do so. Weight-friendly options include, of course, raw veggies/fruits with light dip but will that entice a crowd? Keep in mind that the key to calorie control is portion control. If the flavors are bold and satisfying, you’ll be happy with less. How about grilled shrimp or scallop and cherry tomato skewers or grilled or roasted shiitake mushrooms with a soy dipping sauce? Buy a ready-made soy dipping sauce or create your own with a base of 2 parts (1/2 cup) low-sodium soy sauce to one part (1/4 cup) rice wine vinegar, minced garlic cloves and diced scallions (to your taste), a couple teaspoons of sugar and 1 teaspoon of sesame oil. This easy option offers tons of flavor but fewer than 100 calories per serving. Staying with the seafood theme…thin slices of smoked salmon on a platter topped with diced onion and capers…paired with wheat or rye crackers is healthy and low in calories.

A great crunch alternative to puff pastry is using layers of phyllo dough. It’s easier to work with than you think. You can set the sheets into mini muffin cups and fill them with everything from fruit compote to soft cheeses. Another idea is to whip up a light tasty filling for hollowed out sweet bell peppers made from light cream cheese, onion and chives. If you buy it ‘commercially prepared,’ this type of spread offers about 40 calories per tbsp. but you’ll get a huge burst of color and flavor in one little serving. Remember, they are appetizers…keep the calories ‘mini-sized.’

Boot-camp workout: A pumped up version

It’s autumn already and luckily we still have some beautiful weather to enjoy. Get the most out of the clear and sunny days left by exercising outdoors, whenever you can…even if it’s just a fast walk at lunchtime. An outdoor boot-camp workout need not be limited to the beach on summer days. When you can, get outside before it cools down and starts to get dark (around 6 pm).

A fast track to fitness is to combine classic strength training moves, such as body weight exercises (back-to-back with limited rest) with short aerobic intervals to keep your heart-rate elevated for about 20-30 minutes, a variation of the traditional boot-camp workout. To minimize fatigue, alternate upper and lower body moves. Not only are there dozens of body weight exercises to choose from, but they are effective and require no equipment or accessories.

Focus on choosing compound strength training exercises or moves that work multiple muscle groups at the same time. Big movements that involve large muscle groups burn more calories. Think of a boot-camp workout taken up a notch. The goal is to keep your heart rate elevated (peaks and valleys) throughout the workout by performing 3 to 5 ‘sets’ of exercises in rapid succession. For example, one ‘set’ might start with walking lunges (the full length of your back yard). Before you turn around to walk back, perform 10 to 12 crawl out straight leg push-ups. From a standing position, with straight legs, touch your palms to the ground in front of you and, keeping your legs straight, inch your straight arms out and away from your toes, until you are in a plank position. Perform a full push up, crawl your hands back to your toes, stand erect and repeat.

After performing another set of walking lunges, proceed straight into a cardiovascular set. Do a full minute of kettlebell swings or try incorporating challenging “burpees” into the set. To perform a “burpee,” begin in a standing position. Quickly drop down into a squat with your hands on the ground and kick your legs back into a push-up position. Perform one push-up and jump back into a squat position to complete the movement.

Of course proper form and positioning is key to ensuring a safe and effective boot-camp workout. Squeeze in at least a few of these workouts before the really chilly air sets in!