Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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Healthspan app review

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I read this article about a “new app that identifies your nutrition gap” a little while ago. According to the article, the app (Healthspan) will make individualized supplement recommendations that you can order in-app based on your diet. Naturally, I was concerned. Ideally, we should be aiming to obtain the majority of our nutrients from food. I envisioned an app designed to push supplement sales and was concerned about the safety and accuracy of recommendations made through an app. I figured I shouldn’t knock it until I tried it though so I downloaded the free app and tried it out for a week.

Healthspan is very similar to other food and activity tracking apps in that you enter your daily food consumption and your physical activity. I’ve written about some of the pitfalls of these apps before, in particular their accuracy when it comes to calories burned and the notion of “earning” more food with exercise.

When you first download Healthspan you enter your weight, height, age, etc and it gives you your daily caloric intake to attain your goal. According to the app, for me to maintain my current weight I should consume 1143 calories a day. This is quite low and certainly lower than the number of calories I actually consume every day. Of course, I “earn” more calories through my regular exercise. Just for fun I changed my goal to see what my daily caloric allotment would be if I wanted to lose two kilos. I now have a measly 914 calories per day to work with. To put that in perspective that’s roughly the calories in a Big Mac and medium fries. A 900 calorie per day diet is generally considered to be a very low calorie diet and not recommended to be undertaken without medical supervision. The app however, provided me with no warning. It just readily lowered my daily calorie goal. Interestingly, when I further decreased my goal weight to 44 kg (which would render me significantly underweight for my height) my calorie goal remained at 914/day.

Healthspan does offer you the opportunity to obtain free supplement samples when you register. Unfortunately, they’re only available to those in the UK so I was unable to determine what the samples were. Following that, you can order supplements through the app but the description of this process given in the original article is a little off-base. The app doesn’t make recommendations based on your recorded dietary intake. Rather, you complete a questionnaire and based on your responses it recommends a multivitamin supplement. The recommendation seemed pretty generic for any woman of my age (see below). Despite this, it still concerns me that supplements are available through the app given the questionable quality and safety of many supplements available on the market.

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Aside from this, another rather significant issue I had with the app was logging my food intake. While it was quite user-friendly to enter foods and beverages I’d consumed, the selection was extremely limited and there was no way to determine ingredients in mixed dishes, nor to enter your own recipes or nutrition information. For example, I made a vegetable curry for supper one evening. There was a vegetable curry option I could add but there was no way of knowing if the ingredients were similar to the curry I ate and for anyone who’s ever had curry, you know that the recipes can vary considerably. The same held for other dishes such as smoothies, lasagna, granola, stir-fry, and so on. There was also a number of foods that I couldn’t find at all in the database and had to make my best guess at what would be most similar. Based on this, I question the ability of the app to record calorie and nutrient intake even remotely accurately.

Each day, the app gives you a score out of 100 that appears to be based on your physical activity and calorie consumption. However, participation in challenges also counts toward this score. Without participating in these optional challenges, I was never able to achieve better than a 60 on any one day. On most days, I was even lower than this. Personally, even though I wasn’t using the app to genuinely achieve any goal, I found this really discouraging. If I was actually trying to reach personal nutrition and physical activity goals I can imagine this score would be off-putting.

I know that people really like apps to track things like food and exercise but I’d give Healthspan a pass if you’re looking for an app for these things.

 

 

 

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Follow Friday: @carrot_rewards

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A little change from the usual RD recommendations. Today I’m recommending the free app Carrot Rewards. It’s an easy way to earn points for making healthy choices that translate into real life rewards. There are simple little quizzes on things like nutrition and physical activity. There’s also a step-counter feature that can be connected to sync with a counter in your smart phone or fitbit.

You chose from their list of participating loyalty programs to decide where the points you earn will go. Personally, I’m collecting Scene points. If you want to sign-up and get bonus points (and get me bonus points too!) use the offer code dianac9618 when you register.

Apologies to all my readers outside of Canada. This app is currently only available to residents of select provinces in Canada. If Carrot Rewards is not currently available in your province you can email them at help@carrotrewards.ca and they’ll add you to a mailing list to notify you when the program becomes available in your area.

Disclaimer: I have no affiliation with Carrot Rewards and was not asked to promote their program. You too can get a bonus points referral code to invite friends after you sign-up.


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Follow Friday: @healthiqapp

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You guys, I am so addicted to this Health I.Q. app. Forget trivia crack. This is where it’s at. Just a bunch of nutrition and health-related quizzes. You earn points and see how you scored in comparison to everyone else. You can even redeem your points for healthish awards (I’ve got my eye on a three-month subscription to Nature Box). Questions are all vetted by healthcare professionals so they’re generally pretty good. If you do take exception to any of them you can dispute it after you answer. There are also discussion boards (which are not moderated by the healthcare professionals so don’t trust everything you read on them) where you can see tips from others and add your own on various topics. It’s a pretty fun way to test your knowledge and pick-up some new information while you’re at it.


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Follow Friday: @EWG’s Food Scores

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Interested in finding out how your food stacks up? Now you can check its “score” with a quick search on the Environmental Working Group’s Food Score page. Foods are rated based on three criteria: nutrition concerns, ingredient concerns, and processing concerns. They also have an iphone app available in the app store, an android app is coming soon. It’s an easy way to find out more information about your food.


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Follow Friday: @BuycottApp

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A new app, Buycott,  can help you to do your grocery shopping based on your ethical values. The app enables you to scan the barcodes on products and then indicates who the parent company is and whether or not corporations like Monsanto were involved in its making and a nutrition facts panel will show if a product contains GMOs. Bonus, the app is free!