Wil DuboisWho doesn't sometimes need a little help navigating life with diabetes? That's why we offer Ask D'Mine, our weekly advice column, hosted by longtime type 1 and diabetes author Wil Dubois.

This week, Wil's putting on his medtech hat in answering a question about food-focused mobile apps. There are so many out there... Luckily, Wil has some opinions to share about the offerings and how he thinks they might help.

{Got D-related questions of your own? Email us at AskDMine@diabetesmine.com}

 

Ask D'Mine buttonRuth, type 1 from Florida, writes: Can you recommend a few apps for Android smartphones for carb counting? I am type 1 for 43 years. Presented at age 26 with DKA and blood sugar of 1739!!! What a way to find out I was diabetic. I do well at home but have no clue on carbs most times eating in restaurants. Thank you.

Wil@Ask D’Mine answers: Hoe. Lee. Cow. One thousand seven hundred and thirty nine? I think you should get yourself some sort of T-shirt made. You know, maybe “1739 and Still Kicking” inside the blue circle. It would be a great conversation starter at your next diabetes support group meeting.

But as to apps, are there a few I can recommend for carb counting restaurant food using the Android operating system? No. I’m sorry. I can’t. You need to switch to Apple IOS. Because, frankly, there’s only one carb app that you need, and in my experience any other is a waste of time.

Hands down, the best carb app on the planet is the perhaps inappropriately named CalorieKing, which sadly doesn’t exist in an Android format. What makes it the best? Partly the database of more than 70,000 foods including 260 chain restaurants. Partly the ability to search by category or by food name. Partly the fact the database is more than a compendium of the stupid labels that appear on packaged foods, like some other apps. CalorieKing includes data on raw foods such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, and even cough drops and condiments! But the killer feature of the app is the ability to modify the serving size in the app, which automatically adjusts the data. Let me show you how that works in the real world.

For instance, suppose I wanted to eat a bowl of Kashi Berry Blossoms Squares Cereal for breakfast. The splash page for the cereal in the CalorieKing app shows the official serving size of ¾ of a cup, which is 1.1 ounces. The app tells me that size of bowl has 25 carbs with 5 grams of fiber. But what if I’m hungry? What if I want a larger bowl? In the bad old days you’d have to get out a calculator and start doing some serious math. Lord help you if you poured the cream on first! But in the CalorieKing app I can quickly change to either ounces or grams and enter the amount I’m actually going to eat, and the nutrition facts update in a flash. Eating 1.7 ounces according to your kitchen scale? Enter it in the app with a few flicks of the screen and the carbs jump to 40 with 8 grams of fiber.

To add insult to injury for you Android users, this awesome app costs exactly nothing. Yeah. It’s free. But not all is lost. I have two possible workarounds for you to consider, rather than ditching your Android and joining the Apple Cult, although as you’ll see in a moment there’s a second reason to consider switching to IOS.

The first workaround is to use your Android to go online to CalorieKing’s website, where they have a free food search tool that works much like their app. You search by category, or just type in what you need data on, and you can adjust the serving size just like you can in the app. Need to look up how many carbs in an apple using an Android? Just use your web browser!

The other workaround is to go old-school. And to understand that option better, let us dip into history. CalorieKing’s history. Just who the heck are they, anyway? Believe it or not, they are a 40-year-old Australian outfit that’s now a mix of an online weight loss club and a publishing house. Their first carb counter was a book published Down Under in 1973. The American version hit our streets in 1988, and quickly became the book equivalent of a double platinum album. And more. According to a press release from CalorieKing in 2005, in the first 17 years of the book’s run, more than 10 million copies had been sold.

I can’t imagine selling 10 million copies of a book… but boy, would I like to!

Anyway, even in this modern app-ified world of ours, CalorieKing’s dead tree book is still in print, and is still updated every year. In fact, they have the classic pocket size and a large print edition. Beyond the basics, the new 2018 version also includes listings for booze, stadium food, international travel, carnival and fair food, and even movie theatre foods and snacks!

Of course, the book is more limited than the app, featuring 17,000 listings to the app’s 70,000 (to make the book manageable size-wise) but it still lists data on 200 chain restaurants; and as that’s where you’re having the most trouble, I think that keeping a copy in your car’s glove box would be a great idea. Heck, it’s only $8.51, which is quite a bit cheaper than the latest iPhone, as I understand it.

But you should still consider switching to Apple. And here’s why: Having good carb data is only the first step in good diabetes management. Properly covering those carbs with the right amount of insulin is the second step. Most folks using pens or syringes pick a single insulin to carb ratio throughout the day to keep the mental mathematics manageable, but in reality, most D-folks need different ratios at different times. The perfect partner to CalorieKing is RapidCalc app logoRapidCalc, an insulin dosing and tracking app which you could think of as the brains of an insulin pump for the pumpless. But, sadly, it too is currently Apple-only.

It’s interesting to me how the whole PC/Apple thing played out in healthcare. When the desktop was king, nearly all diabetes programs were PC only. I can remember my Apple-loving brothers and sisters crying for Apple parity. For the most part, it didn’t happen. Then the smartphone arrived, and overnight the shoe was on the other foot. Mobile diabetes apps are nearly all IOS and the Android crowd is left crying, “What about us?”

Will that be likely to change? I think it will, simply because of economics. While Apple phones seem to be everywhere, and hold around 70% of the U.S. market, they only hold 12.9 percent of the global market, while Android boasts 86.2%! As diabetes is global, I think you can count on diabetes apps for Android to increase in the coming years.

But in the meantime, your best bets are dead trees and web browsers.

 

This is not a medical advice column. We are PWDs freely and openly sharing the wisdom of our collected experiences — our been-there-done-that knowledge from the trenches. But we are not MDs, RNs, NPs, PAs, CDEs, or partridges in pear trees. Bottom line: we are only a small part of your total prescription. You still need the professional advice, treatment, and care of a licensed medical professional.
Disclaimer: Content created by the Diabetes Mine team. For more details click here.

Disclaimer

This content is created for Diabetes Mine, a consumer health blog focused on the diabetes community. The content is not medically reviewed and doesn't adhere to Healthline's editorial guidelines. For more information about Healthline's partnership with Diabetes Mine, please click here.