Sunday, May 22, 2011

Manage the CARBS!

Since embarking on the Paleo diet for over a month, one thing constantly on my mind was how to keep tabs on the amount of carbs I was eating. In the movie "Fat Head", an excel spreadsheet appears to be in use to track carbs. That's a bit too old school for me and a real hassle. Surely there must be a modern alternative - designed with a sole purpose in mind - keeping tabs on your carbohydrate intake.

Enter a brief search on the iTunes app store to discover Carb Manager. After taking a leap and using this app all I can say is this - it's the real deal. If you are doing a Paleo, Zone, Atkins, or any other sort of low carb diet this is the app you NEED today. If you are not on a low carb diet the information this app provides is still incredibly useful. If you don't have an iPhone then you need one so you can put this gem of an app to good use immediately.

Now, I have downloaded a slew of diet and exercise apps over a year - designed to keep tabs on calorie intake, calories burned, food eaten, etc, etc, etc. All of them were kind of "meh" at the end of the day. I will call these other apps "single use apps" similar to "single use kitchen gadgets" - in that after the first use to justify the expenditure you never use them again.

Carb Manager is an app that you will go to on a daily basis if you are serious about tracking your carb intake. For $3 you get an app that does just about everything in an information rich, yet simple to use interface. About the only thing it won't do is prevent you from shoving all those carbs down your gullet. Lets be honest - it's hard to avoid carbs in today's modern "we put CORN in EVERYTHING" diet. This app lets you keep tabs and make wiser decisions. Seeing the bar graph fill up to your individually determined "carb max" for the day is a real incentive. If you go over and see the green bar turn red - well you start to think ahead for tomorrow - need to make better choices. Something about keeping tabs and "writing things down" helps immensely in this regard.

Lets take a look at what your 3 bills gets:

The first step is to add your individual settings and set a carb max. Make it whatever you want depending on your goals. The app asks for some basic information and can be edited at any time.

Ready to add what you are eating, or make some choices based on the data BEFORE you put the pie in the hole? Select the "Foods" tab and either go by category as shown above, or do an individual search. There is a LOT of stuff within these individual categories and at first it takes a bit of time to sift through the information to find the right thing. Once you do and add a food item to your log, it shows up under a "recent search" menu. 

Once you find the food you ate (or will eat) you hit "Ate It Today" and are presented with a choice of what meal or as a snack. Forget to add an item yesterday? Just hit the left arrow at the bottom to change the button to "Ate It Yesterday." Keep hitting that left arrow to go back in time and add it on a specific date. Hit the right arrow to "Will Eat Tomorrow" or keep hitting that arrow to set up that food for your future. Slick. Turns out you like to eat this particular item a lot? Hit the star button near the top right to add it to your favorite food list to make finding it again easier.

The great thing about this app is the clear and graphic nature. Hmmm, should I eat this 22g Net Carb crepe? Thats a lot of "green" in that pie chart methinks... Are you close to your carb max? Hit "Log" for a quick look. Does the crepe have any redeeming nutritional qualities to justify the indulgence? Hit "Full Nutritional Info" and then decide - crepe or not to crepe? (Hint: PASS!)

Under the "Log" tab you will have a daily read of your total carb intake compared to your set maximum after you add your foods. Excellent. As a bonus, you get to see all the other important information like calorie intake, total fat, and protein.

Overshoot your max for the day and you get a red graph. Don't worry, no alarm bells go off and your iPhone wont taze you, but seeing your log go from green to red is a bit of a bummer. My May 20 was "Epic Fail" on my goal. It is actually pretty amazing what seeing the graph will do to affect your eating choices. At the top menu you can hit "Food" to be taken a level deeper:

Wonder what specifically you had for dinner? Here it is. If you want to see the deeper nutritional information for a specific item, just tap the right arrow and you will see a breakdown of that individual food. Neat.

Hitting the overall "Nutrition" tab at the top lets you see in explicit detail where you are with all of your vitamins, minerals, fat, cholesterol, etc. There are 32 nutrients here. Are you getting your Iron? Getting your daily allowance of Folate? Vitamin K? Now you will know. This information is very interesting to watch over the course of your meals.

Over time, you can track your carb intake compared to your set max via the "Graph" tab. See what days you bombed and do better next time. Most excellent.

Information freaks fear not - total carb intake isn't the only thing this app graphs. When you fist go into "Graph" you select what you want to see. Carbs is only one of a slew of choices. See also your fat intake, protein intake, fiber, sugar, cholesterol, as well as all the vitamins and minerals! If you are tracking your weight, you can graph that as well.

Three bills goes a long way for all of this information. I think I have finally found an app that is easy enough to use that I can stick with it. Carb Manager is easy to use and packs an impressive amount of information. I highly recommend checking it out.

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