Weight Loss by the Numbers

By Charlyn Fargo

When I see someone serious about losing weight, they typically have a habit of tracking their calories. Most use an app on their smartphone such as MyFitnessPal or Lose It! or MyNetDiary. There are many others as well. These happen to be free (although some offer premium upgrades for a fee).

Besides tracking calories, these apps can help improve the quality of your diet by helping you know how much fiber, vitamins or other nutrients you are consuming (or not consuming).

Grant Smith Health Insurance

Some include motivational challenges; some let you connect with others on the same app; some scan barcodes of products to get the most accurate nutritional information. Look for one with a huge database of foods and prepared dishes. It’s also helpful to have one where you can import a recipe.

If all this seems like too much to do, realize that most of us eat the same foods over and over. So, once you add a food to your app, it’s there, ready to pop in a day’s calorie count.

Why use an app? Accountability. Tracking your food intake with an app can help keep you accountable and open your eyes to where you’re falling short nutritionally.

A meta-analysis study in the journal Obesity Reviews found that app-based mobile interventions can improve diet quality and help with weight loss. In another study, researchers found those who used mobile apps lost nearly 2 pounds more in weight compared with those not using an app. Researchers used data from 14 studies involving over 2,000 people.

While there is plenty of room for human error — overestimating or underestimating portions — there is something powerful about keeping track of what you eat. Many people have no idea how many calories a simple peanut butter and jelly sandwich might have or how many calories are in a glass of wine.

A wise dietitian told me (as I worried about losing my pregnancy weight) that it really boils down to calories in and calories out. For most of us to make a change, we have to know how many calories we’re taking in. That’s where an app might help.

Q and A

Q: What’s the difference between a sweet potato and a yam?

A: Sweet potatoes have a thin, smooth skin with flesh that is orange, reddish-orange or sometimes yellow. Yams are typically imported from the tropics and have coarse, brown skin and dry white or purplish flesh. Both are more popular than ever because of their nutrition and versatility in recipes. The root vegetable is low in calories and high in fiber, vitamin A, vitamin C and potassium. You can serve them mashed, baked, as a french fry or in a pie. Try them oven-roasted with olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper or roasted with an apple, brown butter and fresh chopped sage.


Here’s an easy way to get another serving of heart-healthy salmon this week: Bake it in a sheet pan with fresh asparagus. It’s fast, easy and healthy, and cleanup is a cinch. This recipe is from Hy-Vee.


2 (6- to 8-ounce) salmon fillets, about 3/4-inch thick

2 tablespoons pure maple syrup

1 tablespoon red miso

1 1/2 teaspoons seasoned rice vinegar

1 teaspoon refrigerated ginger paste

1/2 teaspoon refrigerated garlic paste

Nonstick cooking spray

16 asparagus spears

1 tablespoon olive oil

Garnish: orange slices, chopped Italian parsley

Pat salmon dry with paper towels; place on a pie plate. Combine syrup, miso, rice vinegar, ginger paste and garlic paste. Drizzle half of mixture over salmon, and gently rub on fillets. (Save the other half of the mixture for later). Let salmon stand at room temperature 15 minutes. Preheat over to 425 degrees F. Spray a large sheet pan with nonstick cooking spray, or line with foil. Set aside. Cut asparagus spears into 8-inch lengths. Toss asparagus with olive oil. Arrange the spears along the edges of the sheet pan, leaving room in the center for the salmon. Place salmon in center of the pan. Bake for 8-12 minutes or until salmon flakes easily with a fork (145 degrees F) and asparagus is crisp and tender. Brush remaining half of miso mixture over salmon. Garnish with orange slices and parsley, if desired. Serves 2.

Per serving: 520 calories; 38 grams protein; 22 grams carbohydrates; 31 grams fat (6 grams saturated); 95 milligrams cholesterol; 3 grams fiber; 16 grams sugar, 3 grams fiber.

Charlyn Fargo is a registered dietitian with SIU School of Medicine in Springfield, Illinois, and the current president of the Illinois Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. For comments or questions, contact her at or follow her on Twitter @NutritionRD. To find out more about Charlyn Fargo and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at


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