Written by: Abby Herrick, RD, LD, RCEP
Fit4D Nutrition & Exercise Coach
Smartphones can help you manage your diabetes in ways that used to be complicated or time-consuming. Now, rather than writing your blood glucose (BG) levels on a piece of paper you can simply enter them into your phone, which analyzes patterns and comes back with recommendations for you.
There are a wide range of applications (“apps” for short) that can easily be downloaded to help you stay within your target range. Each app comes with a variety of features relating to nutrition, exercise, and blood glucose to help electronically manage your diabetes. Today, you can download apps for smartphones, tablets, and iPods that let you record, store, and analyze information electronically, all in the palm of your hand. Some apps are free and others can cost a couple of dollars. Blackberry users also have apps, though this article will focus on those available to Apple and Android devices.
Can apps really help me manage my diabetes?
Instead of logging when and what you eat, medications, blood glucose, and exercise activity on separate documents or sheets of paper, many apps allow you to enter all of this information into one program. Besides personal health management, one benefit of using apps is that it is easier to share information with your healthcare provider. A study conducted by the Journal of Diabetes Science and Technology showed that apps benefit patients by showing trends of blood glucose over time. This invaluable information helps the user make informed decisions about how to improve their blood glucose management.
What are diabetes apps?
- Apps are programs that run on your smartphone, tablet, iPod Touch, or desktop computer and can perform tasks like storing information about your diabetes, finding patterns, generating graphs from your data or providing exercise or nutrition recommendations based on your lifestyle.
- There are many diabetes apps available – some better than others – and if you’re already using a smartphone, it’s likely that you can easily start downloading apps today.
- Apps install within seconds with one click of a button and there is no need to restart your browser or computer to begin using them.
- Many apps can be used in conjunction with glucose meters and insulin pumps.
How do I download an app?
How you download an app depends on the device you use. If it starts with an “i” (iPhone, iPad, iPod), then you want to follow the directions for Apple. If your smartphone or tablet says “Droid” or “Android” on it, then follow the directions for Android.
Download directions for Apple devices:
- Create an account at www.store.apple.com
- On your phone, click on App Store icon
- Use the search box to find the app of your choice
- Select the app you want and then hit Install
- Enter your Apple Store username and password
- To launch: There will be a new icon on your menu pointing to the app
Download directions for Android devices:
- Click on Android Market in app menu
- Use the search option to find your app
- Click on the app
- Review the details and hit Download, then Accept & Download
- To launch: on the home screen, hit the “menu” button and select All Apps and click new app icon
The most popular apps and their features
General Diabetes Apps
First we’ll go over apps created especially for people with diabetes. These apps share a common set of features:
- Log blood glucose.
- Log exercise, carbs, insulin & other meds, blood pressure, weight (varies by app).
- Create a graph or chart from the numbers you’ve entered that can help you find patterns/trends in your blood sugars.
- Set reminders/alarms to test or take medications.
- Email data to healthcare provider (HCP) or export data into a file (CSV, XLS, PDF) that can be shared with HCP.
- The best part is, most of these apps are free! (unless noted)
For each app, we will list the features which make it stand out from the other apps. These lists are not exhaustive, so be sure to click on the links for more information to find a complete list of features.
Glucose Buddy – Diabetes Helper 2.0
(iPhone, iPod touch, iPad-requires iOS3)
- #1 ranked diabetes app by the Founder of TuDiabetes.com
- Many variables can be logged– medication, food (100,000 to choose from), exercise
- Access to Glucose Buddy forums where you can connect with others and continue to learn about diabetes
- Sync data with desktop computer to make it easier to view graphs
- One thing we wish the app did have is the option to save groups of foods as entire meals
- The text is displayed in white or black on a gray background and may make it hard to read for someone who is visually impaired
- Learn more about Glucose Buddy
- Download Glucose Buddy
WaveSense Diabetes Manager
(iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad and requires iOS 3)
- Produced by a company that also manufacturers blood glucose monitors
- View glucose trends up to 90 days in graph or chart form
- Offers 50 diabetes related videos
- Color-coded results make it easy to spot highs and lows
- Set target ranges, hypo-/hyperglycemic limits, and mealtime schedules
- Sleek design
- Missing a food library so you need another app to count carbs/calories and then input them into WaveSense
- No updates to this app since it was first released
- Learn more about WaveSense
- Download WaveSense
(Android smartphones and tablets)
- Log food intake, blood pressure, weight, exercise, pulse, A1c results, body fat percentage, and medications taken
- Easy to use interface
- Add multiple entries simultaneously – this is a real time saver
- Customizable categories (like breakfast, lunch, and dinner) which make it easy to sort and analyze your data
- Data backup within the app so you never lose your logs
- Learn more about OnTrack
- Download OnTrack
Log For Life
(iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad and requires iOS 3.0 or later)
- Add BG, weight, carbs, medication, exercise, notes all at once
- Does not contain a food library
- Graph shows glucose numbers over a 24 hour period
- App is free to download, but you must get a logforlife.com subscription to use it, which costs $9/month
- Learn more about Log For Life
- Download Log For Life
iBGStar Diabetes Manager App & Glucose Meter
(iPhone, iPod touch – not yet available)
Up and coming in the world of diabetes technology is the iBGStar. It’s a meter that actually plugs into your iPhone or iPod touch. It’s not yet available in the US or Canada, but it is definitely something we’re excited about for the future. It will be the first blood glucose meter that syncs with a smartphone.
- Eliminates need to measure BG using meter and then enter values into app
- Meter can be used individually or with phone and doesn’t require coding
- Track BG, carbs, and insulin – but does not yet have options to log exercise or other diabetes medications
- You will be able to track BG, carbohydrates eaten, and insulin taken, but there is not yet an option to log exercise or other diabetes meds
- Learn more about iBGStar
Apps with a Specific Focus
While the apps above are helpful for taking care of your diabetes in general, the apps below are helpful if you would like to focus on one specific area of self-management. Check out some of the cool things that specialized apps can help you with!
My Fitness Pal
(Apple, Android, Blackberry, and Windows Phone)
- Goal: help you lose weight
- Tracks calories eaten (food) and burned (exercise)
- Extensive library of 1,113, 000,000 foods and restaurant items
- Not diabetes-specific so you will need to log your blood glucose somewhere else, like with an app above or using the software that came with your meter
- The app works off of general caloric recommendations, but we suggest you talk to your CDE to determine the right number of calories for you
- Learn more about My Fitness Pal
- Download My Fitness Pal for Apple
- Download My Fitness Pal for Android
- Download My Fitness Pal for Blackberry
- Download My Fitness Pal for Windows Phone
(Apple and Android)
- Calculates insulin dose based on carb intake and blood glucose values
- This is a very trim app: You work with your CDE to determine 3 “constants” — Carb/Insulin Ratio, Correction Factor, and Glucose Level Goal. You only enter these numbers once.
- Then, every time you use the app, you simply enter the 2 “variables” – your BG and the amount of carbs consumed. The app uses a formula to calculate how much insulin you should use.
- Check with your healthcare provider before and during use of this app
- $0.99 in Apple Store
- $1.99 in Android Market
- Download Insulin Calculator for Apple
- Download Insulin Calculator for Android
(iPhone and iPod Touch, OS 3.1)
- For Type 2 diabetes
- Interactive diabetes education modules
- Simple carb and calorie counter – workswith large food library
- Motivational activity tracker
- Virtual pill box that tracks medications and sets reminders
- Learn more about Vree
- Download Vree
(iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad. iOS 4.0)
- Track calories and carbs eaten everyday
- Scan UPC barcode of food packaging using your phone’s camera
- OR enter food manually (food library where you can choose from 200k+ foods)
- Learn more about FoodScanner
- Download FoodScanner
Children with diabetes (and their parents) can take advantage of apps, too!
The Body and Type 1 Diabetes
(iPhone, iPod touch, iPad)
- Animated graphics and easy-to-follow steps
- Teaches the basics: what is diabetes, insulin, carbs, control
- Download The Body and Type 1 Diabetes
Medtronic’s Carb Counting with Lenny
(iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad)
- Nutrition guide and interactive games
- Animated lion walks kids through educational experience
- Reinforces healthy eating
- Download Carb Counting with Lenny
How do I know which diabetes app is right for me?
Finding the right app depends on which area of diabetes management you would like to address.
- Focus on the area you struggle with the most. If you don’t always remember to test your blood sugars, then you will probably want an app that allows you to set reminders to test after your meals.
- Decide if you want a general diabetes app or an app with a specific focus. The general diabetes apps are a one-stop shop in that they allow logging of so many different things. On the other hand, they may be overwhelming for somebody who is just starting out or they may have too many unnecessary features. (Keep in mind that if you decide to go with a focused app, you might need to track your blood glucose values in another place, like a second app, the software that came with your meter, or good old fashioned pen and paper.)
- Once you have narrowed your options down to several apps, you can read user reviews (found at the Apple or Android website) to see what others like and dislike about each one.
- If you don’t like the app you’ve downloaded, we encourage you to give it 2 weeks before switching. It may grow on you. And most apps have a help menu or a support forum where you can ask questions. They can help you get started or locate a feature that you might have missed.
- If you’re still not happy with it after 2 weeks, you can always delete it and download a different app. As we’ve seen, your options are endless!
Choose an app (or several!) to help manage your diabetes
Improvements in diabetes software and advancements in technology will continue to make monitoring and managing diabetes easier. If you’ve given it a go and decide that diabetes apps are not for you, there are other effective options available to track your diabetes information such as computer software, accessing web-based programs and downloading from your meter to a website just to name a few. Technology has made living your best life with diabetes even easier with just a push of a button.
Do you have any of these apps on your phone? Or do you use another app to help manage your diabetes? We’d love to hear about your experiences! Please share in the comments.