Review of Cronometer
Review of Cronometer (www.cronometer.com)
If you spend time on my Nutrition pages, you have seen the screenshot of a weekly Excel spreadsheet I keep that details, among other things, my macro nutrients for the week. I have been tracking my food inputs for almost a year now with Cronometer, an app ($2.99; web version is free) that beats anything else I’ve seen for making food choices and tracking them. And while I back it up with a spreadsheet, the basis is the app.
First, Cronometer has a free version, and that’s what I use when I'm on my PC. It has all the functionality I need, and the ads don’t bother me in the least. Its Gold version lets you see further into the past, do some analysis, print full nutritional reports, and also lets you share recipes with others. I don’t use the Gold version because, at $35 for a year, it doesn’t substantially advance what I’m doing. The app at $2.99 is more than worth it for on-the-go input.
You will see some reviews that like My Fitness Pal or Fat Secret better, usually on the grounds that they have superior databases of food. I don’t find this to be true, but your mileage may vary. Cronometer has an extensive list of whole foods from the USDA and NCCDB databases, with not only macronutrient data but also 50 to 75 micronutrient values. They also have, on the mobile app, a bar code scanner which will pick up label data. Most of what I eat every day is home made from whole foods, so my data tends to be really complete. If you eat out, or eat a lot of processed food, your macronutrient data will be strong, but micronutrient and amino counts may be less accurate since most labels don't carry those.
Cronometer’s interface is easy to learn and its colorful charts allow you to see—in green, yellow, and red—how your dashboard shapes up against your targets. For me, the best feature is that it allows me to pre-load my day’s plan. Doing this allows me to see where my choices for the day will put me, in terms of what my goals are. It may remind me, for instance, that a set of choices are going to be short of my protein needs or that I’m going to be significantly over my carbohydrate goals. Sometimes, it shows me that my cheat day is going just a little too far. Once the food is in your mouth, the calories and macros are there, so seeing the result before you eat is handy.
Cronometer allows you to build your own recipes into your database, ensuring accuracy again because the whole food database is so strong. If you have an accurate scale and measuring spoons and cups, you can be sure that your grandmother’s lasagna recipe (the one with the extra ricotta), is accurately represented. It also allows you to enter your bio-data, track your weight gain or loss goals (with a helpful count of where you sit on the day with your calorie count, relative to your weight goal), and lets you enter exercise activity (although truthfully, this one isn’t one I use—I’m pretty sure what I burn in a workout is different from what you burn doing the same thing).
Clearly, I’m a fan. But there are some hints I’d give to make sure you get the most out of Cronometer.
1. Eat whole foods. Prepare your own food from whole foods. While I think this is good advice outside of a nutrition tracker, it definitely will help you get better data out of Cronometer.
2. Understand that, despite that, you can’t get down to the final blade of grass when you’re “in the weeds.” Every egg is just a little different, because every chicken is a little different. If you are going to be distraught that your arginine count may be off a whisker, no nutrition tracker will satisfy you. What these apps do is empower your choices by giving you knowledge. Not perfection.
3. That said, you need to enter accurate data or this is just fiction. So buy a scale and weigh your food. Yes, it’s a hassle at first, but you get pretty good, pretty fast, at understanding weights. Before long, you’ll know what 12 grams of spinach or 4 ounces of chicken thigh looks like.
4. If you want the very best data, consider their alternative suggestions. For instance, just about anything I eat from Trader Joe’s is in the database. I’m a fan of Joe’s nut products. If I enter Trader Joe’s brazil nuts, the site points out, I’ll get 17 nutrient counts; that’s what you can get from Joe's labelling. But if I take brazil nuts, raw, unsalted, from the database, I get 76 listed nutrients. Cronometer will always tell you if they have an alternative food with more complete data.
Cronometer has been a difference-maker for me as I’ve become more intentional about my nutrition choices. It helps that my wife and I both cook. It helps that almost all my meals are from whole food sources and that we limit our eating out. But even if I did not do these things, Cronometer would allow me to accurately track calories and macronutrients, and that’s enough, for most purposes.