Thursday, May 10, 2007

You are what you eat

As I sit here and work my way through a pound of ripe strawberries it feels like a good time to write up some reviews on the food tracking sites that I've been playing with.  First, here are some characteristics that seemed to be common across all sites:
   * Ability to search for foods in a catalog.  This routinely works well for "raw" foods like fruits and vegetables, somewhat well for packaged/processed foods and questionably well for restaurant entrees.
   * Easy to add foods that you've logged in the past via a "favorites" list
   * Possible to add new foods that aren't already in the catalog

FitDay (  Free web app.  $30 for the desktop app.  2.2 million users. 

The user interface for logging foods is reasonably clean and easy to use.  The site doesn't require a lot of extraneous clicking to get the job done.  The units often default to cups, which isn't the most logical unit for graham crackers, apples and bananas... but it is quick and easy to change the units while or after you add the item to your food log.

I was disappointed that there wasn't a separate entry in the catalog for my natural peanut butter but that lack of granularity does reduce the number of search results.  I was very disappointed that the only result for "sweet potato" was a Healthy Choice frozen dinner.  On the positive side, I guess this means that they have lots of prepared/frozen entrees in their DB.... but sweet potatoes are such a fantastic food!  I did find ten results for "yam," including a tasty-sounding side dish: "Starchy vegetables, Puerto Rican style, including yam, white sweetpotato, tannier, no plantain (viandas)."

I've found that FitDay tends to have a reasonable number of entrees in their DB but that you're still unlikely to find an exact match for what you ate - there are just so many different entrees & recipes out there.

The food log shows calories and grams of carb/fat/protein for each line item plus a summary pie chart that also includes types of fats.

FitDay also includes an exercise log, some reports, a journal and other features that I may review in a future column.

DietSite ( Free web app with $10/month option where you can get advice from a registered dietician.  Appears to be a consumer-targeted version of the Pure Wellness platform which is primarily marketed to employers and health clubs.


(click for larger version)

One unusual behavior that I noticed on sign-up was that if your requeste username is already taken then they just append a randon number and give you that name without really saying anything.  For example, I asked for "crash" and noticed that my welcome page says "welcome, crash503!"  I wonder how many users don't realize what their username is the next time that they try to sign in.

DietSite has the same Search, Favorites and Custom options that FitDay has.  The UI feels a little bit more clumsy to me - a few more clicks are necessary and components seem to take up more space here than on the other site.

One feature that I like is that you can associate each food item with a meal and a time of day.  (Each meal default to a hardcoded time if you don't feel like entering times for everything.)  I like that this gives my entries some logical grouping whereas if I enter my data into FitDay in the "wrong" order then my post-breakfast snack is harder to find amongst my dinner entries.

Search results on DietSite consider the units to be part of the food item.  For example, "Strawberries, raw - cup halves" and "Strawberries, raw - small (1" dia)" are two separate items int he search results.  This explodes the number of search results and makes it a bit more difficult to find what you are looking for.  I also see some duplicate results in the list: the cup of halves raw strawberries is in there twice... and with small/medium/large, sliced, whole, halved and pureed, I have seven choices for the same food.

The layout of entered foods feels a bit more clumsy than FitDay's, too.  Once you enter a food item you can't change it.  There is a button to remove the item and a hyperlink to see nutrition details. 

DietSite provides an interesting feature that I on't see in FitDay - meal planning.  While you could pre-log food for tomorrow in either site, DietSite tries to give you suggested menus based on your caloric needs.  The concept is cool but I think that the execution could use another revision.  You can pick a calorie target from a drop-down and then the site gives you a set of drop-downs for each meal where you can pick items to fulfill the suggested number of servings of each food group.  I may dig into this further in another column.

What should be next
A few features that I didn't see on any of the sites:
   * restaurant entrees with nutrition information
   * cache-a-meal: if you routinely eat the same 3-5 foods together, you should be able to bundle them into a unit that you can quickly add to future logs
   * nutrition info for more brand-name products - if a site like these got to a critical mass of users then food companies (and restaurants) shoul dbe clamoring to have their data in the DB.  Searching would become a bit more difficult, though
   * to really go crazy with partner integration: what if you could link your "what I ate" account to your frequent customer discount card at a grocery store.  There woul dbe some privacy concerns, but they could share your purchase history with the food-tracking site and then you could just select from ingredients that are already in your pantry.
   * a web-2.0-esque way of sharing (and validating) user-entered nutrition information in order to grow the database

No comments:

Post a Comment