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updated 4/16/2013 11:46:17 AM ET 2013-04-16T15:46:17

Can your smartphone help you lose weight? Researchers at the University of Leeds today (April 15) published the results from a trial showing overweight participants dropped three times the weight of those who used a paper diary.

The app, My Meal Mate, lets users monitor their food intake and exercise and set a weight-loss target, then sends a weekly text that tells users how they're progressing. The smartphone app was used on average every other day in the trial, while the alternate methods, an online tracker and paper diary, were used only once a week.

My Meal Mate was created by the researchers, along with software company Blueberry Consultants for use in the trial. The free app is available for download from the National Health Services Choices website and from Google Play.

Over six months, those using the app lost 10 pounds, online diary users lost 6.5 pounds and those who used a paper diary lost only 3 pounds. The test was conducted by Janet Cade, a professor at the School of Food Science and Nutrition in Leeds. The group of 128 overweight volunteers was divided into roughly three even groups.

Cade attributed the success of the app to its large database of food, which is the first app to include U.K.-based  food .

"Generally people don't know how many calories they are eating daily," Cade said in a statement. "The app allows users to map their eating habits easily to the products they consume."

The features of My Meal Mate are similar to My Fitness Pal and Lose It, two popular weight-loss apps in the U.S. These apps offer  grocery store  items, restaurant meals, as well as allowing users to add their own food. The idea is to establish a calorie limit for the day and then check calories before you eat. For instance, the blooming onion at Outback Steakhouse (listed as the worst thing you can eat in America by website Eat This, Not That) has 1,560 calories — which leaves very little food for the rest of the day. When a user logs in their exercise, the app adds calories burned back into the limit for the day.

If the secret to  weight loss  is knowing how many calories you may eat in a day, then it's easy to see how having a tracking app on your smartphone helps.

Follow Leslie Meredith  @lesliemeredith. Follow us  @TechNewsDaily, on  Facebook  or on  Google+.

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