Do you need a nutrition tracker? What you need to know
Nutrition trackers are growing in popularity across the UK, but it’s good to know when the right time is to use one and why, writes Jennifer Wallis
The start of a new year can see many of us wanting to up our health game.
Perhaps you’ve committed to a gym session four times a week, gone cold turkey on caffeine or vowed to reduce your environmental impact?
In 2024, Brits are putting their diet back in focus, with 32% of Brits committing to improving how they eat, while a further 34% said they would like to reduce their waistline, according to Forbes.
And there’s one tool in particular gaining a lot of press that’s helping people better understand how their food impacts their health overall. Can you guess?
You might have seen your mum, neighbour, or colleague donning them, or frantically tapping on their phone after a meal? Yes, it’s a nutrition tracker.
But are nutrition trackers a smart choice? What even is a nutrition tracker anyway, and how can it help us better understand our health?
We get the insight scoop from nutritional experts on the good (and the bad) when it comes to monitoring our nutrition.
‘What do I want to know?’
“Understanding what information you’re hoping to get out of the tracker can determine how useful it will actually be for you,” she explains.
For someone managing type 2 diabetes, for example, using a continuous glucose monitor (CGM) “can be really useful…to help you understand how your body responds to food, which in turn can help you to better manage your blood sugars, leading to longer term health benefits,” adds Katie.
For someone who would like to manage their weight, the benefit of a tracker could be as simple as “seeing your food choices in black and white,” providing us with the motivation we need to make healthier choices.
Myles Hopper, founder of recipe box delivery service and Vitality Partner, Mindful Chef, agrees they can be incredibly useful. “If you have set yourself particular goals, understand the importance of adherence to specific nutritional guidelines and want to be compliant, then trackers can really help you on this journey,” he says.
There’s no denying the popularity of the nutrition tracker is soaring in the UK. Some, however, can leave users feeling flabbergasted.
“Nutrition trackers may actually become more of a burden due to the demand of inputting data,” Hopper explains.
“Or, in some instances, they can even be demotivating as people aren’t able to effectively track or achieve their nutritional targets.”
This is a sentiment that Shore echoes: “I sometimes see clients feel a little overwhelmed by the volume of information that these trackers provide, leading to further confusion.”
The sheer detail that some trackers go into, honing in on each vitamin and mineral contained in each item of food eaten, is enough to send our heads into a tailspin.
Going so in depth could even lead us to abandoning monitoring altogether, or worse still, lead to us to overthink or worry about our health when we’re perfectly healthy.
“I see clients becoming frightened to eat, or obsessively checking their numbers, which can lead to disordered eating habits, such as cutting out foods that are healthy (like avocados) because they would put them ‘over’ on their calorie or nutritional tracker for the day,” agrees Shore.
As well as this, Hopper laments that such intense tracking “can remove the joy out of eating and cooking – focusing instead on the data rather than what you’re eating”.
Back to basics
So, is there a better way to watch what we eat, rather than monitoring every morsel that may end up having a detrimental effect on our health?
Shore advises that the best thing to do is to make sure we have the basics of healthy eating in place. One way to ensure our meals are nutritionally balanced is to “eat the rainbow”.
This means eating at least three portions of brightly coloured fruit and vegetables each day. Shore advises that we should be making sure that we are “having protein at every meal and not skipping on healthy fats”.
This is due to certain vitamins only being able to be absorbed by the body with the presence of fat, one of which is vitamin D – and one that is harder to come by in these darker, colder months.
Staying hydrated and minimising our caffeine and alcohol intake are other ways to keep ourselves healthy.
“Our bodies are really clever,” Shore continues, “and unless there is a very specific need – you’re training for a marathon or dealing with a diagnosis of some kind – you should be able to get what you need from a varied diet built on these pillars”.
“We’ve always advocated for something far simpler and easier to use,” Mindful Chef’s Myles says.
“It’s called the ‘hand portion method’.” It’s a simple method that involves, you guessed it, using your hand to measure portions of food.
Your palm acts as the amount of protein you should put on each plate. Your fist acts as the number of vegetables you should put on each plate.
A cupped hand acts as the amount of carbohydrates you should put on each plate and your thumb acts as the amount of fats you should put on each plate.
A pretty simple, effective and convenient method, given we always have our hands to hand.
As mentioned, nutrition trackers can be beneficial if you’re looking to manage a diagnosed condition or reduce your weight.
But for those of us who aren’t, it may be wiser to make sure we’re eating a balanced diet. “It sounds boring, but the basics are what our bodies love and respond well to,” says Katie.
“Keeping on top of your fruit and vegetable intake, eating varied protein sources at each meal (plant and animal if that’s available to you) and keeping an eye on carbohydrate quantity is a great start.
“Conversely minimising sugars, convenience and junk foods, alcohol and caffeine will help to avoid health problems over time.”
She adds: “Conditions such as type 2 diabetes don’t appear overnight and it’s easy for bad habits to creep in.
There’s nothing wrong with a treat now and again but focusing on health-giving rather than health-depleting foods is your best bet.
“Try to find ways to make healthy eating enjoyable for you and if you can do that, the science says you’re more likely to stick to it longer term.”
At Vitality, we’re all about encouraging our members to make small positive lifestyle choices that can make a big impact to their lives.
Vitality members have seen a positive impact on their diet in the first year of engaging with the Vitality Programme, with 95% continuing to improve*.
As a Vitality member, you can receive either a £5 or £10 weekly Mindful Chef discount by getting active.
*Vitality research into Programme users, 2023
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