Android iPhone and iPad Self Improvement

This Daily Food Tracking Habit Can Transform Your Health

Rob Nightingale 05-07-2016

Knowing what you’re eating is one thing, but understanding what you’re eating is another thing entirely.


When we place what we’re eating and drinking under a microscope, we’re able to see how that consumption affects our mood, sleep, weight, work, well-being, and appearance.

To uncover this treasure trove of information requires you to track the food and drink you consume.

Thankfully, this doesn’t need to be arduous. It can be. But it doesn’t need to be.

When Food-Tracking is Taken to The Extreme

The idea of food-tracking often conjures up the image of a neurotic quantified-self nerd weighing their food, and calculating micro-nutrients on an unfathomable spreadsheet.

Data Analysis


If you want life to get to this state of neurosis, check out these great biohacking podcasts Top Podcasts to Take Your Biohacking to the Next Level Can you biohack your way to improved mental and physical performance? Read More . These podcasts are full of cases studies and research showing what we can achieve as we learn more about how food is affecting our bodies, including:

Using food-tracking for these purposes is on the extreme end of the spectrum, requiring specialist equipment, expensive blood tests, and all the rest.

You Don’t Need to be a Neurotic

As a non-neurotic, you’ll probably be looking for patterns that are a little less ambitious. You’ll want to gain insights into the effects of the food you’re consuming by using little more than a smartphone app or a simple Excel spreadsheet. You’re in the right place.



In its very basic form, tracking your food whether via an app or a paper food diary has some very real benefits.

Losing Weight

Losing weight becomes easier as you keep a close eye on the types of food you’re consuming. This includes the amounts of sugars, carbs, proteins, and fats that constitute those foods.

Improved Nutrition

When you can see the proportion of healthy to unhealthy food you’re eating, choosing to eat more balanced meals Cook More Creative Meals With These 6 Cooking Shows Want to cook up something a little more creative in the kitchen? These TV shows will spark you with inspiration and push you in the right direction. Read More with better nutrients becomes easier.

A World of Self-Knowledge

When you advance your very basic food-tracking habit just a little further, a whole world opens up. By running some very simple experiments, you can begin to discover things like:

  • How drinking water effects your skin
  • Which foods you’re intolerant or sensitive to
  • Whether caffeine is making you more or less productive
  • How carbs in the evening effect your sleep
  • How high protein breakfasts effect your energy levels through the day
  • Why you keep eating even when you’re not hungry
  • Which kind of meals most affect your mood

The list goes on. Provided you have a little patience and are able to track the right data, these insights are open to everyone.

Get Started with Food-Tracking

Over the past few years a range of quality food-tracking apps have been released. As you input information about your meals, these apps draw on their library of nutritional data to calculate the overall macro and micro-nutrient content of those meals.


On its own, this information is great for helping you to lose weight, or increase your nutrient intake. If you want to run some basic experiments, like those above, you’ll also need to track other data to analyze alongside your food data.


Tracking Meals

After much research on my own part, the best option for tracking your meals is definitely MyFitnessPal. With millions of users, this is a free cross-platform app (Web, Android, iOS).

This is by no means a perfect solution. You need to be online to use the app. Changing the quantities of some of the foods in the food library can sometimes be confusing. And the heavy focus on “calorie counting” is not a reliable measure of healthy eating.

But considering the app comes with a library of over 3 million food and drink items, you can track virtually any meal imaginable. You can save meals that you commonly eat for easier input in the future. And there are also built-in meals from a ton of restaurant chains. When reviewing your meals, you can see the micro and macro-nutrient breakdown.

My Fitness Pal

On top of this, there are two added benefits of using MyFitnessPal. You can easily track even the most complex of workouts within the app. And you can connect your account to other apps for greater insight including Jawbone, Fitbit, Apple Health, MapMyRun, WalkMeter etc. There are plenty of ways to export your MyFitnessPal food diary, too.

If MyFitnessPal isn’t for you, there are other options. For weight loss LoseIt! (Free on Android, iOS) is a popular choice, including the ability to connect to other apps and devices. For something simpler, CHRON-o-Meter (Web, Android [Broken URL Removed], iOS) is also worth checking out.

If you’d rather avoid apps altogether, download this Excel Calorie Counter with Recipe Calculator which can be found on this page (direct download). We’ve given detailed instructions on creating the perfect meals with this spreadsheet How to Build Perfect Meals With the IIFYM Calculator and Excel You can easily design meals that meet your nutrition intake targets. Achieve your fitness goals by using the free IIFYM Calculator and an Excel spreadsheet for healthy meals every day. Read More .

Tracking Everything Else

Being able to compare your food data to other data you collect is where the real benefit of food-tracking lies.

Sleep Tracking

What you choose to track depends on what you want to learn, with the following suggestions all being free or affordable choices for tracking a wide range of metrics.


TracknShare LITE (Free, iOS) is a powerful app that allows you to track pretty much whatever you like. Whether that’s stress levels, back pain, the time you woke up, time in front of a screen, your mood, productivity etc.

It’s through combining this kind of information with your food data that you can start to see how things like caffeine affect your productivity. This kind of tracking is also easily available by building a simple Excel spreadsheet. If you know of a similar app to this for Android, please let us know in the comments!

Sleep Tracking

If you want to find out how certain food items are affecting your sleep, download SleepBetter (Free, iOS, Android). This is an app that you place on your bed. As you sleep, it measures how restless you are throughout the night, allowing you to see a detailed overview of your night’s sleep the next day.

Used alongside your food diary, you’ll be able to see how alcohol, late-night snacks, etc. affect your quality of sleep.

Heart Rate

If you’re working to improve your heart rate and cardiovascular health, being able to reliably track your heart rate is important. There are a number of smart heart rate trackers available including the Jarv Premium Heart Rate Monitor ($30) or the Polar H7 Heart Rate Sensor (from $50).

For something simpler, Cardiio (iOS) or Instant Heart Rate (Android) are both free apps that use your phone’s flash to record your heart rate.

Body Fat

If you’re altering your diet to try to reduce body fat, Skulpt Aim ($149) is a smart device that uses a range of sensors to instantly calculate the body fat around various muscles.

Perhaps you’re experimenting with a high fat diet. Tracking each of your meals, along with body fat measurements will enable you to figure out the precise ratio of macro-nutrients you should be aiming for to achieve your body fat goals.

The List Goes On

As you can imagine, the list of things you can track goes on. The number of health tracking devices 17 Best Health and Fitness Gadgets to Improve Your Body Over the past few years, innovation around health and fitness gadgets has exploded. Here are just a few of the amazing pieces of kit you'll be able to use to keep you feeling great. Read More on the market is growing quickly, including blood glucose monitors, drink-tracking flasks, and pulse oximeters.

Understanding Your Data

I’ve written before about how simply collecting data is useless Can Wearable Health Devices Actually Make You Healthier? Despite the number of wearable health devices set to reach 170 million by 2017, there is still no scientific evidence proving their effectiveness. But it's far too soon to give up hope. Read More . Unless that data spurs on behavioral change, it’s pointless.


For this to happen, you need to be able to compare the data you collect to see how one measurement is affecting another. Some patterns will just jump out at you. For subtler patterns, you’ll need to look a little closer.

Most of the apps and devices mentioned above allow you to export your data to CSV. You can then view this data in Excel (or an Excel alternative 5+ Cross Platform Excel Alternatives for When You're Out of Office Worried about your Excel files when working from home or making the switch from Windows to an alternative operating system? Relax! Here are your cross-platform Excel alternatives. Read More ).

Once that data is all in one place, you can start playing around with it, creating charts, and looking for trends. If you’re a complete Excel beginner, there are a number of experts who can teach you for free Need to Learn Excel? 10 Experts Will Teach You for Free! Learning how to use Excel's more advanced features can be tough. To make it a little easier, we have tracked down the best Excel gurus who can help you master Microsoft Excel. Read More . For simple experiments like the ones mentioned in this article, you’ll only need to create some basic charts. That being said, the more proficient you are with data analysis How to Visualize Your Data Analysis with Excel's Power Tools Excel is killing it with its advanced data management features. Once you have used one of the new tools, you will want them all. Become a master of your data analysis with power tools! Read More , the more insights you’ll be able to tease out of your data.

Becoming a Food-Tracking Addict

Once you start noticing a few trends in the data you collect, it’s easy to become a food-tracking addict.


First, you may stop eating food after 7pm as it makes it difficult to sleep. Then you may limit yourself to two cups of coffee per day, as anything over that makes you cranky. Then you might notice that filling your plate with 50% veggies massively increases your energy levels. Who knows?

The point is to start collecting enough data so that you can learn important lessons. Lessons that you can act on to improve certain aspects of your life.

The apps and devices mentioned above will help you a long way along this road.

What would be your first experiment to learn the effects food has on your body?

Image Credits: Fish with vegetables by Romaset via Shutterstock, Spaxiax via, Y51aFguqRcGTgsYRYBXV_20140104_085932 by Scott Schwartz (Flickr), Closeup of businesswoman holding graphs in hand via Businessperson standing against the blackboard (edited)

Related topics: Fitness, Food, Habits, Health.

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