One of the main factors involved in the decision to take a daily multivitamin and mineral is what are my specific needs?
I like to use Cronometer to get an idea of what vitamins and minerals are obtained as part of the diet. Once we know how much we are getting, we can then look at what our needs are. So let’s explore Cronometer today.
Cronometer App Review
Cronometer is a web app (https://cronometer.com) where you can input what you eat, and it analyzes the nutritional content of the food. There are many sites that will do this, but not all of them give you a breakdown regarding vitamins and minerals. Many just give calories, protein, fat, carbohydrate and possibly a few other parameters such as fiber and sugars.
It is free to use (although there is a gold edition for a fee if you really get into it!).
There is also a phone app version which is $2.99 for when you are on the go. However, the web-based version is more comprehensive.
If you prefer another app, go ahead and use it. Just find one that you will use consistently for a while.
To get started, you need to set up a login name, password, etc. Next, you can input some details about yourself such as weight, height, sex, and then goals.
If you want a particular breakdown of Protein: Fat: Carbohydrate, you can enter that in the settings too, so for example, you may want 30:30:30, equal breakdown or 20:30:50….You can also set what you want to be recorded and any specific limits. For example, if you want to not go above a certain amount of sugar or saturated fat, you can put your limit in, and then if you go above this, it will show as red.
There are videos showing you how to use Cronometer so take a look if needed.
Once you have your settings in place, you can begin to enter your foods and drinks for the day. For the first few days, until you get used to it, it may take some time, as you are figuring your way around. But, as you use the same foods, Cronometer will find them quicker and put them to the top of the list.
Just click the “add food” button and enter the food in the search box. A selection of items will come up. Choose the one that is closest to what you have eaten. Then fill in how much of the item you ate. You’ll be given options such as a typical serving size, specific weight, or so many slices or cup. You can click on the measurement and then enter your value. You can enter fractions too, so if you have only part of a nectarine, you could click on “each” and then enter “1/4” if you had a quarter. Or you could click on “slice” and then enter “6”. When you add the serving, it will appear on your day’s diary.
Continue to add all the foods. There are brands to search through but if you can’t find a particular item, chose one that looks similar. Yes, this isn’t an exact science but gives a good indication.
You can also use Cronometer to keep track of your activity levels. Just click on the “add exercise” button and choose your activity and duration. You can link it to Fitbit too.
You can also record blood test results, weight, blood pressure, blood glucose levels, cholesterol levels, etc. Use the “add biometric” button.
There is also an “add note” button where you can enter free text that will appear under that day’s diary. If, for example, you just can’t find a food or anything near it, just enter it as a note, and when you are reviewing that day, you’ll be able to bear that in mind.
I like the fact that you can keep all these different parameters in the one place.
If you make a recipe, there is a page where you can enter the ingredients, quantities, how many servings, etc. Click on “foods” and then select “create new recipe.” Once you’ve entered the ingredients, you can include cooking instructions too, then print the recipe off, but this is optional. Once in the system, you can then use portions of this recipe in your food diary. It’s pretty simple to do and many of my nutritional content charts I include with my recipes on this blog, I’ve done through Cronometer.
Once you’ve entered the day’s food and drink, you will get some helpful charts showing if your intake has reached or exceeded your targets. Examples of these are shown throughout this blog post. I find the most value in looking at the “trends” button. This lets you see the average intake over seven days. This is where you can really see that, for example, you only achieve 47% of the daily recommended intake of folate, or are low in your B3 intake.
While we all vary in our nutritional needs, this will easily show you if you are not even reaching the dietary reference intake.
The dietary reference intake (DRI) doesn’t give us the value that you specifically need. Our needs vary depending on our genes, microbiota, lifestyle, activity, stress, sleep, toxic exposure, current deficiencies, etc. But the DRI gives us an indication of the minimal level we should be aiming for.
Obviously, foods vary in their nutritional content, for example, if a food is grown in mineral-rich soil or not. Additionally, you will estimate quantity for a lot of items. So this isn’t precise. But it gives us a guide.
One part of Cronometer and other similar apps that annoys me is that they equate carotenoid intake with vitamin A intake. We discussed these in a previous blog post and how we all vary in our capacity to convert carotenoids into vitamin A – so just equating the two is can be misleading as you can have adequate levels of carotenoids and still be vitamin A deficient.
Give it a try
Despite these limitations, I use Cronometer for myself and continue to learn about the nutritional composition of foods. For example how much fat is there in cheese, how much carbohydrate is in vegetables. Gosh, all those B vitamins in spinach! It is a great education tool.
The Cronometer information will also help you see if you are achieving the minimal DRIs from your diet, and thus you can look to improve your diet and supplement, where appropriate. Sometimes, a multivitamin and mineral may not be the best option, and it may be more appropriate for you to have single nutrients or increase certain types of foods.
The best way forward is to work with a healthcare professional to explore some of these other factors that may affect your individual specific needs, especially what current deficiencies you may have (e.g., using Spectracell micronutrient test), but Cronometer gives you a good start.
Have you ever used it or a similar app? What is your experience? Did you make changes based on what you learned?