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A new app can help you track how much fruit and vegetables you are eating a day. Eternity in an Instant/Getty Images
  • Researchers have developed a new Google app that keeps track of the amount of vegetables and fruits you consume each day.
  • Experts say the app can help people reach the recommended 5 servings a day of fruits and vegetables.
  • However, they say it could be problematic for people with eating disorders.
  • They add that you can also increase your intake of fruits and vegetables without a tracking device by making simple substitutions in meals.

A new app has been designed to help you eat the right amount of fruits and vegetables.

SMART 5-A-DAY is rated E for everyone and is available now in the Google Play store.

It works by helping you keep track of the total amount of fruits and vegetables consumed each day. It also provides education about proper portion sizes.

Teaching about portion sizes is an effective tool to improve dietary habits in the long-term rather than simply for the short period that they use the app, said Katherine Appleton, PhD, a professor of psychology at Bournemouth University in England who led the studies and the development of the new app, in a press release.

The food tracking app was developed in an effort to address the lower-than-ideal consumption of fruits and vegetables in people in the United Kingdom.

Public Health England reports that less than a third of adults are getting the recommended 5-a-day servings of fruits and vegetables.

The agency adds that children are consuming even less. For example, reporting from 2018 shows less than 20% of children ages 5 to 15 actually had 5 servings per day.

According to the study authors, previous studies from Bournemouth University found that although most adults in the United Kingdom know about the 5-a-day message, they lack the understanding or tools about how to achieve the goal.

The pilot controlled study that influenced the final app release was published in JMIR Mhealth Uhealth.

It included 94 volunteers. Fifty participants used the app for 2 or 4 weeks while 44 participants did not receive the app. Researchers said the results from the study helped formulate the overall development and release of the app.

Fruit and vegetable knowledge, intake, and behavior were assessed after the first week, the second week, and then again after 2 and 4 weeks.

Researchers said the benefits were small but not insignificant.

“Although benefits from the app were small, impacts will likely increase as a result of recent modifications,” the study authors wrote in the press release.

“Many of my patients have asked me if food tracking apps can be a useful way of eating better,” says Amy Bragagnini, MS, RD, CSO, an oncology nutrition specialist at Trinity Health Lacks Cancer Center in Michigan and a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

While food tracking apps can be useful, Bragagnini told Healthline she encourages people to look at reviews and speak to registered dietitians before deciding on a tracking app.

“If you find one that works for you, then I recommend trying to be diligent about using it every day for a while, just to get an accurate idea of what you are eating,” she adds.

Amy Reed, MS, RD, CSP, LD, a pediatric dietitian and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics says if the app is only tracking fruit and vegetable servings, it may be helpful for a short period of time to raise awareness of where fruits and vegetables could fit into the diet.

But recommendations to use tracking apps would be based on a case-by-case basis, she adds.

Some things to consider would be the age of the person that may be using the app, for example.

“If it is a child under 18 and they do not have a smartphone, then I would take a pause and discuss the possibility of the parent using the app and tracking the child,” Reed told Healthline.

Food tracking is not typically recommended for people with a history of disordered eating or eating disorders.

“The fruits and vegetables tracking application seems like a great way to increase intake of healthy and nutrient-dense produce, but I would be concerned that one prone to disordered eating may shy away from consuming a balanced diet and may develop a fixation on consuming fruits and veggies only,” says Bragagnini.

“This may lead them down the path to extreme weight loss and possible nutrient deficiencies,” she adds. “As always, if anyone has disordered eating tendencies, I would advise them to speak with their doctor and seek counsel from a registered dietitian before downloading a food tracking application.”

Reed echoes this sentiment.

She says if a client has a history of disordered eating and they report that tracking their intake was a trigger for them, then she would not recommend it.

Kara Becker, LMFT, the clinical director of eating disorders at Newport Healthcare, tells Healthline there is always a possibility of disordered eating and eating disorders being triggered by tracking food.

“For people who have struggled in their relationships with food, it’s best to consult with a registered dietitian to make sure the meal plan they intend to follow is suitable for their personal needs and condition,” Becker told Healthline.

“If you find you are falling short in the produce department and are not interested in using techy apps, first take a second and review what you are already eating each day,” says Bragagnini.

So, instead of changing your typical meals, see if you can include or substitute fruits or veggies, she says.

Reed adds that eating fruits or vegetables at all meals and snacks is a great place to start.

“A person does not need to venture into the exotic fruits and vegetables, but simply include easy-to-grab fruits and vegetables such as bananas, mandarin oranges, baby carrots, baby cucumbers, and apples,” she adds.

Finally, if you’re not sure where to start, a registered dietitian nutritionist is a great resource for teaching different ways to increase fruits and vegetables in the diet, says Reed.

Meal planning ideas from Bragagnini

  • If you eat yogurt, toss in colorful mixed berries or make a fruit and vegetable smoothie instead.
  • If you snack on hummus and chips, skip the chips and choose baby carrots instead.
  • If spaghetti is a dinner staple for you, add mushrooms to the ground meat you are using and toss in some carrots to the sauce for good measure.
  • Try zucchini noodles instead of regular pasta.
  • Consider a mixed green salad with chickpeas, avocado, and chicken for lunch.
  • Skip the meat occasionally in favor of a vegetable-rich stir-fry with broccoli, mushrooms, carrots, and snow peas with cauliflower rice. Add grilled tofu if desired.