Tracking your food intake by counting calories or macros (AKA macronutrients, which are protein, carbs, and fat) can be a really helpful way to ensure you’re in a calorie deficit — or surplus or at maintenance, depending on your goal — and a calorie counting app is a handy way to do that.
Two of the biggest players in the field are MyFitnessPal and Nutracheck, but it might be that one of the two suits you better than the other, so choosing the right app for you could be the key to your fat loss success.
To help you make that decision, I’ve used both apps and reviewed them for ease of use and practicality, health guidance, cost, extra features, and more.
Having used MyFitnessPal on and off for over a decade, I know the app really well — it’s often the first calorie-counting app people try — so I was intrigued to download Nutracheck and see how it compares.
A month later, I found myself pleasantly surprised by Nutracheck.
Read on to find out whether Nutracheck or MyFitnessPal is the best calorie counting app and which would best help you achieve your fitness and fat loss goals.
The benefits of counting calories
While you do need to be in a calorie deficit to lose fat, you don’t necessarily need to count calories — in fact, doing so isn’t for everyone, and for some can lead to over-restriction, obsession and an unhealthy relationship with food.
For those who can maintain a balanced approach, however, counting calories can be an incredibly useful method for achieving your fitness goals, as well as a fascinating educational tool.
Counting calories shouldn’t be forever, but learning about the energy density of different foods can teach you about healthy portion sizes and give you the knowledge you need to maintain weight loss without tracking afterwards. No one wants to be scanning barcodes in a calorie counting app and weighing every ingredient for the rest of their lives, after all.
But calorie or macro-counting is a tool you can always come back to, whether you decide you want to lose a little weight again, fuel your fitness better, track your intake of a certain nutrient like fibre or protein, or focus on building muscle by eating in a calorie surplus.
As the saying goes: What gets measured gets improved.
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And research supports this for weight loss. This 2019 study by Brown University, for example, found that people who monitored their food intake better lost more weight.
If you’re someone who loves planning or numbers, you may find a sense of satisfaction in counting calories — at the end of the day, it’s science: If you can eat a certain amount of food every day, and do so pretty consistently (yes, that means tracking your kids’ crusts and those licks of peanut butter), you will lose weight, and there’s some comfort in knowing the formula will work if you can stick to it.
It’s worth bearing in mind that calorie counting isn’t an exact science — the nutritional information on food labels and restaurant meals aren’t always accurate, and our body uses more energy just digesting certain foods (protein requires the most, followed by carbs, and fat) — but if you take everything with a pinch of salt, calorie-counting can be an extremely effective way to ensure you’re on the right track.
So, now we know why it’s worth tracking your food intake, let’s get into the meat and vegetables of Nutracheck and MyFitnessPal. First things first, let me tell you a bit about each of them.
Nutracheck: The Basics
Nutracheck is a British calorie counting app, and it prides itself on that.
I don’t mean there are Union Flags emblazoned all over it, but when I signed up, I was told that there would be “no US cups and measures” and they featured over 300,000 foods from UK supermarkets and restaurants. Good to know for your next trip to Nando’s.
Once I got stuck into trying the app, I realised this was actually incredibly helpful, but we’ll get into that more later.
After you sign up and set your nutrition targets, you’re then able to search for and log foods and drinks as breakfast, lunch, dinner, or snacks.
Logging food in Nutracheck.
Nutracheck offers exercise tracking too, and you can sync it with your phone or activity tracker (it’s compatible with Apple Watches and Fitbits) to pull in data including steps.
There’s also a section on the daily page for notes, and at the bottom, you can see your progress on water consumption, five-a-day, calories eaten and burned, as well as any other nutrient you may be tracking — this is really useful if you’re someone who is concerned about hitting a protein target, but maybe not too bothered about their fats and carbs.
As well as sections for saving meals and recipes, Nutracheck has a “Progress” tab where you can track your results on a graph. This isn’t just weight though, you can also log measurements like hips and waist, BMI, body fat percentage, clothes size, and muscle mass.
Nutracheck’s Forum and Progress tabs.
This is great not only for seeing your progress visually as data, but also for ensuring you don’t get too hung up on the scale, which can fluctuate for all sorts of reasons, from where you are in your menstrual cycle to whether you ate a saltier meal so are retaining more water.
Nutracheck also has a “Forum” section of the app where users ask questions and support each other, which seems to be really active.
MyFitnessPal: The Basics
MyFitnessPal offers many of the same features as Nutracheck, but it’s more US-focused. You can still choose whichever metrics and measurements you prefer though.
They say they have 11 million foods in their database, but having more entries isn’t necessarily a good thing. Anyone can add meals or ingredients, which sometimes means you have multiple entries of the same foods, not all of which are accurate.
Each day’s diary has sections for breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks, water and exercise, as well as a box you can click to add notes for the day, and another to see a more detailed nutritional breakdown of the food you’ve logged.
The app homepage features articles on the MyFitnessPal blog, from inspirational weight loss stories to wellbeing tips.
MyFitnessPal’s basic version features ads.
There’s also a “Progress” section, where you can log your steps, weight, measurements like hips or waist, and even Fitbit-tracked sleep minutes. It doesn’t have as many options as Nutracheck though, lacking things like body fat percentage and muscle mass.
You can link MyFitnessPal with an array of health and activity-tracking devices and apps to import other data, including Fitbit, Strava and Garmin. And there’s a section where you can add and save recipes too.
MyFitnessPal has a “Community” section similar to Nutracheck’s forum, but it’s not as prominent — you have to go on to the “More” tab to get there.
Searching for a cinnamon bagel in MyFitnessPal, and the app’s Community section.
The app also offers workout plans and routines and recipes, organised by various factors such as post-workout, vegetarian and under 500 calories.
What calorie counting app is the best value?
MyFitnessPal is free to use as a “Lite” member, but this means you’ll see ads. For me, this shows up as one small banner ad — usually promoting the Premium version — at the top of my food diary, and it’s very easy to ignore.
There are bigger ads on the Homepage, but personally they don’t bother me either as I never scroll down or click on the articles there.
MyFitnessPal offers a one-month free trial of Premium, after which point it costs £15.99 a month or £64.99 a year if you pay in one go, so it’s not cheap.
The Premium version of the app offers access to specific meal plans and custom settings for low-carb diets or macro-tracking, and you can also set calorie goals per meal.
You can still track your macros using the free version of the app, it’s just ever so slightly more effort — you have to click the nutrition button at the bottom of your diary and you can then see your breakdown of protein, carbs, and fat.
Nutracheck offers a seven-day free trial, and it doesn’t auto-renew so you don’t have to remember to cancel anything (we’ve all made that mistake and accidentally ended up with a hefty bill, haven’t we?).
After the trial, if you don’t pay, you can only log five foods a day, which, quite frankly, is useless. I can’t see any point in logging five foods a day, unless you just wanted to work out the nutritional content of, say, a particular sandwich or omelette you were making.
For 12 months of app-only membership, Nutracheck normally costs £29.99, but is sometimes on offer for £23.99.
It’s significantly cheaper than MyFitnessPal Premium, but unlike the US-based calorie counting app, Nutracheck isn’t really usable as a free member for more than a week.
What calorie counting app has the best Design?
While MyFitnessPal’s design is a very simple white and blue, Nutracheck’s is more colourful — the main branding is an ombré greeny blue, but there are multicoloured touches throughout the app.
There are also cute cartoon images for meals, such as a boiled egg for breakfasts and a sandwich for lunches. This might not be everyone’s style, but I thought it made the app seem warmer, friendlier and more fun than MyFitnessPal’s quite clinical style.
On Nutracheck you can also choose to switch to dark or darkest mode if you prefer not to have a white background.
It’s probably a fair assumption to say that the majority of people signing up to either MyFitnessPal or Nutracheck do so with the goal to lose weight, but apps like these are infamous for suggesting users set their calories unsustainably low.
I was intrigued to join both as a new user and see what they set for my calorie target.
When you sign up to Nutracheck, it asks for your weight, height, age, gender, job activity levels (I chose sedentary) and leisure activity levels (I chose active), as well as your goal (weight loss).
Signing up to Nutracheck.
For weight loss, it asks for your goal weight and says, “set realistic goals — we recommend no more than 10% at a time.” While it’s refreshing to see a message encouraging a sensible approach, the app doesn’t explain what “realistic” or “at a time” really means.
Equally, the 10% limit doesn’t factor in that different people have more or less weight to lose, so will be able to do so faster or slower.
I input that I’d like to drop from 70kg to 67kg, which is 4% weight loss. You choose your preferred rate of weight loss — 0.22kg, 0.45kg, 0.68kg or 0.9kg per week. I selected 0.45kg, and was shocked when Nutracheck put me on 1,417 calories.
As someone with experience tracking calories, I know this is far too low for me, and I’d be too hungry to stick to it. When I changed my rate of weight loss to 0.22kg per week, Nutracheck upped my calories to 1,666, which still felt low. When I decide I want to enter a weight loss phase, I usually aim to eat 1,850-1,950 calories a day.
The app also tells you when you should supposedly reach your target date, and I can see why people would want to know that, but unfortunately weight loss is rarely linear, and fluctuations and plateaus make it very hard to hit deadlines or specific dates.
Despite being shocked by my 1,666 calorie target, I carried on with the app and it soon became clear to me that Nutracheck’s default is to add on calories from exercise. You can change this setting though, which I did.
Not only are the calories burned in exercise wildly overestimated by activity trackers, according to research, I also don’t think it’s a healthy mindset to exercise with a view to burning calories. It’s better to train to feel good, get stronger and fitter, and empower yourself, rather than thinking of it as a way to burn food.
When I changed my exercise setting, Nutracheck upped my calories by 200, to 1,866, which finally felt like around the right number for me.
The app seemed to send a contradictory message around exercise — it said not to eat back all the calories you burn, but also you should aim to burn 200 calories a day so you can eat 200 more.
Joining MyFitnessPal is pretty similar to Nutracheck. You input most of the same personal data like height, weight and age, but only say how active you are in your job, not whether you exercise around that.
Signing up to MyFitnessPal.
MyFitnessPal recommends 0.5kg weight loss per week, which experts generally say is a healthy amount, but you can choose faster or slower — and the trouble with this is that practically everyone wants to lose weight as fast as possible (forgetting that slower weight loss is generally more sustainable, according to studies).
However, even when I selected 0.5kg per week weight loss, MyFitnessPal put me on a measly 1,310 calories, even lower than Nutracheck.
MyFitnessPal also syncs steps from your phone and activity tracker and automatically adds calories on to your daily target as a result, so the more steps you take and the more movement you do, the more your calorie target will increase.
While on a simple level, fat loss does come down to energy in vs energy out, many people overestimate the importance of working out for fat loss, as formal exercise only makes up 5-10% of our overall daily calorie expenditure. For this reason, both apps’ insistence on earning more food by moving more is problematic.
However, MyFitnessPal also allows you to turn off the setting so you can use it simply to log your food.
Both apps automatically set macros for their users, but you can modify them and set your own on MyFitnessPal. Seeing your macros over the course of the day, however, requires premium.
Both apps’ protein targets were under the recommendations suggested by most personal trainers and nutritionists when it comes to muscle maintenance and fat loss though. Aiming for 1.6-2g of protein per kg of bodyweight is often cited as a good goal, which would be up to 140g of protein for someone weighing 70kg.
When I entered my weight as 70kg, MyFitnessPal set my protein target at 65g and Nutracheck set it at 70g, so both far below what’s recommended.
Which calorie counting app is easiest to use?
If you’re in the UK, the chances are you’ll find Nutracheck easier to use than MyFitnessPal. Yes, there are fewer foods on there, but that’s probably not a problem because you likely won’t be buying, say, American Twinkies or corn dogs.
What you can find very easily, however, are M&S’s mini Colin the Caterpillar cakes — 159 calories well spent, I’d say.
It’s incredibly simple to search for foods on Nutracheck, and items are suggested as you type. There are also photos of most items making it easy to find what you’re looking for.
While both Nutracheck and MyFitnessPal have barcode scanners, I rarely had to use it for the former because the items are generally all verified for accuracy.
Nutracheck says they have a team checking food items every hour, and when I input a protein powder that wasn’t in their system already, the app asked me to add a photo of the container and of the nutritional information to help them check it, which was impressive.
This is not the case on MyFitnessPal. When I searched for my mini Colin cake there, various entries came up that had been logged by users over the years, and I had to check which actually had the right nutritional information.
For this reason, I did a lot more barcode scanning when logging foods in MyFitnessPal in the hope of finding the right one, which is more effort — and requires getting up off the sofa (arguably good to boost your step count, but a bit of a pain).
Both apps are user-friendly and pretty intuitive. When you first download either, it might take a couple of days to get to grips with, but you quickly work out how it all works.
But in Nutracheck, it’s easier to see, say, where you are on your five-a-day, as it’s listed at the bottom of your diary.
While you can’t set a protein target on Nutracheck without going Premium, you can still easily see your protein per meal if you choose it as the nutrient you want to show alongside calories, which is not an option in MyFitnessPal.
Both calorie counting apps certainly have their merits and make calorie counting and food tracking pretty simple.
All in all, I think Nutracheck is the better app for UK users, mainly because all the food items are verified but also because it’s aesthetically pleasing and makes it easy to monitor your protein (or nutrient of choice) alongside calories.
However, not being able to use the app for free after seven days is a big factor to consider. Arguably, what you’re paying for is that team verifying all the food items, and thus the convenience that gives you.
For some people, that’s worth it. And it’s also worth pointing out that investing some money in something — whether that’s a personal trainer or an app — can help a lot of people stay on track. It’s like another type of accountability: If you’ve paid for it, you might be more likely to use it, and use it properly.
However, if you’re short on money and don’t mind putting a bit more effort in to check the items you’re logging are listed correctly, as well as the odd ad, as a calorie counting app MyFitnessPal does the job perfectly fine.
Your point of view caught my eye and was very interesting. Thanks. I have a question for you.