Health and Halal? There’s an App for That
Nadirah D. Muhammad
Advancements in technology have significantly impacted the way we eat. Today, we have easier access to food and a multitude of options, unlike our ancestors. Though the agricultural revolution is seen as a top advancement of our time, because of it our thought process regarding food has changed. No longer do we eat to live; we are now living to eat. And often times what we love to eat is unhealthy. This has created a huge problem. According to the World Health Organization, unhealthy diets and physical inactivity are key risk factors for the major non-communicable diseases, such as cardiovascular diseases, cancer, and diabetes. Additionally, poor eating habits and a sedentary lifestyle has contributed to the expansion of many Americans’ waistlines. The latest data from the National Center for Health Statistics shows that more than one third of adults in the United States are considered obese. Conversely, maintaining a healthy diet and exercising regularly can help prevent these same diseases and help us lose or maintain a healthy weight. With the many unwholesome options that conveniently surround us, eating healthily and exercising is not always the easiest choice. But there is hope for those of us who struggle with this.
A study published in the August 2008 edition of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, which included 1,685 overweight or obese American adults aged 25 and older, found that recording your food intake in a food journal makes you more likely to drop the excess pounds. Megrette Fletcher, MEd, RD, executive director of The Center for Mindful Eating, says keeping a journal instantly increases your awareness of what, how much, and why you are eating. This helps you cut down on mindless munching. With the technological advances of mobile devices, such as smart phones and tablets, today there is literally an app for everything. Physical food journals are now a thing of the past, having been succeeded by nutrition apps, which makes recording food intake much simpler by putting the control right in the palm of your hands.
There are many options when it comes to nutrition apps (many of which are free), as a search with the key words “nutrition app” on Apple’s App Store yields over 2,000 results. That same search on Android’s Play Store yields over 400 results. These apps can be split into two main categories: weight management and dietary restrictions (e.g. halal, gluten free, and diabetic friendly), with the former being the most popular.
The nutrition apps in the first category essentially perform all the same functions and, simply put, are like pocket nutritionists. Because everyone’s dietary needs vary depending on age, weight, height, and gender, these apps allow users to personalize settings, in addition to exercise and weight management goals.
After inputting personal information, the apps let its users know their healthy weight range and recommended daily caloric intake in order to lose, gain, or maintain weight. Amani Jabbar, a certified group exercise/Insanity instructor, says, “I think nutrition and weight management apps are great tools to use for weight loss and also to keep track of the nutritional balance of one’s diet. I personally have used apps to lose and maintain weight loss, and I now refer them to my clients.”
Sarene Alsharif, MPH, nutritionist and public health educator insists, “My favorite eating/exercise app, hands down, is MyFitnessPal.” She has personally been using the app for over three years and says, “The database is the widest I have seen and I have tried almost every app there is.” MyFitnessPal’s pie chart illustrating macronutrients, together with the large selection of workouts and ability to sync between devices, are some additional features that make it her app of choice.
In addition to calorie counting, most of these apps recommend and track daily nutrient values such as fat, sodium, potassium, fiber, etc. Jabbar informs, “Those watching their sodium intake can log their foods and get a visual of how much sodium they’re consuming. This can also be done for other macro and micronutrients as well. I have used the apps to monitor my iron and calcium intake.” Jabbar’s top three weight management nutrition apps are SparkPeople, MyFitnessPal, and Lose It!. She says that all three apps can also be used to monitor special diets.
Included in many of these apps, is the ability to scan the barcode of a food item, making the process of recording food intake that much easier, as the barcode contains all the nutrient data for the food. Additionally, the barcode scanner can also be used while shopping. Users can scan potential food options and have nutrient data displayed on their mobile screens, which gives a clearer picture of what the product contains and can thus aid in filling shopping carts with more wholesome foods. Alsharif recommends Fooducate because it gives food items a healthfulness grade along with an explanation why. The app also takes a step further by recommending healthier options. Alsharif states, “This app is useful for individuals looking to clean up their diet and make healthier choices.”
Nutrition apps in the category of dietary restrictions can be incredibly valuable, especially for halal consumers. In addition to eating healthily, Muslims must consume food that is halal. Though halal may seem easy, it can get pretty tricky these days with unknown additives often hiding in foods. If you want to quickly ensure that the food you are purchasing or eating is halal, a halal app might be just what you need. These apps allow you to scan the barcode of a food item, tell you whether specific ingredients are halal or not, and/or simply supply you with an extensive list of halal and non-halal food items.
On Apple’s App Store, a search with the key word “halal” yields over 100 results. That same search on Android’s Play Store yields only ten. After browsing and downloading some of these apps, many turned out to be unrelated to food. Others were based in foreign countries or simply did not work. There were, however, a select few that did pertain to food and function properly.
Jabbar suggests Halal Scanner and said that this app is “exciting because it’s a one-of-a-kind app that can scan a food product’s ingredient label and instantly let you know the halal status of any additives contained within the product.”
Alsharif, on the other hand, personally uses and recommends Zabihah. She says it’s great for getting reviews on halal markets and restaurants, allowing halal consumers to “dine with more confidence.”
With so many nutrition app options to choose from, there’s bound to be one that suits your particular needs. Why not take advantage of technology to improve your health and make more informed decisions when it comes to halal consumption? No matter what app(s) you decide to use, the fact that you have decided to means you are taking a step in the right direction to maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
Nadirah D. Muhammad recently received her B.A. from Mount Saint Mary College, where she concentrated in Journalism. She is currently a freelance blogger, writer, and photographer based in New York.