Ina Fried

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New iPhone App Lets Users Count Calories Without Burning Any

There are lots of ways to count calories, but MealSnap may be the easiest yet.

The new iPhone app allows you to take a picture of what you are about to stuff your face with, compares it with its databases and then sends back an estimate of just how many calories you are about to consume (or have consumed if you manage to down it before the result comes back). The app, from InterActiveCorp’s DailyBurn unit, costs $2.99.

Like the calorie signs at restaurants, what you learn may not be that pleasant, but some research seems to show we make better choices when armed with the information. Then again, other studies suggest that may not be the case.

DailyBurn CEO Andy Smith said he lives in New York, a place where some menus have to list calorie information.

“I know that affects my decisions,” he told Mobilized.

Smith admits that the app won’t be spot-on in estimating calories, but notes that’s not necessarily the point.

“It’s not super important to be accurate,” Smith says. “Just the act of tracking something can change behavior.”

Because it stores a record of the photos, the app can also be used as a visual food diary. The truly ambitious (or even the boldly gluttonous) can opt to share the pictures with their friends and family, using the in-app ability to upload to Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare.

“Some people like that to keep them accountable,” Smith said.

I wasn’t that ambitious, but I did want to put MealSnap through its paces. I started easy, snapping a picture of a tangerine. I didn’t want to make things too easy, so I didn’t add the optional caption. Two minutes later it guessed it was an orange and told me it was somewhere between 43 and 65 calories. Next up I sent a bowl of peanuts in the shell, including the caption. Within a minute it came back and estimated that would add up to somewhere between 149 and 224 calories (not counting whatever I burned cracking those pesky hulls). I opted to take a pass on the peanuts.

I wanted something that I could compare with an actual calorie count. In the name of science, I decided to scoop myself some light ice cream (I know, I have a rough job). I measured out exactly one cup, which the product label said should be 240 calories. I then scooped it out, snapped the picture and added a caption. MealSnap estimated my midmorning indulgence in the range of 108-162 calories.

MealSnap is only for iPhone for now, though the company hopes to do an Android app eventually. DailyBurn is still in the final beta testing for the Android version of its main app, which tracks exercise and nutrition information. Smith said the 14-person company has more iOS expertise, but is working to quickly get up to speed on Android.

“We know we’ve got to do it,” Smith said. “It’s coming soon.”

Smith said that MealSnap reflects the direction the company hopes to go, with apps that are less scientific but more fun and easy to use.

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