Overindulged on the mince pies and brandy butter during the holidays? A new program, which can be downloaded onto mobile phones, allows weight watchers to keep food diaries and find healthy alternatives to food items by typing in part of the product’s barcode.

The Nutracheck Mobile program also links to a database containing nutrition information on 30,000 food items and products, and a feature where users can track their weight against a target. It can be downloaded onto compatible mobile phones by reverse-billed SMS.

The system has been given clinical guidance by Nottingham GP Dr Ian Campbell, who is also an associate specialist at the Overweight Clinic, University Hospital, Nottingham, and author of the fatmanslim.com site designed to help men lose weight.

He said: "When trying to lose weight, it’s very hard to maintain that initial motivation. Nutracheck Mobile makes weight loss easier because it’s always there and always ready, keeping you on track; a bit like a weight loss coach in your pocket."

Nutracheck marketing director, Rachel Hartley, told E-Health Insider how the system works. "Initially, you set up your personal preference. You enter your height, your current weight, what you would like to weight, and all that’s based on sound medical principles."

The system returns a target date for the user to aim for. "We have made sure that the recommended calorie allowance is no less than 1400 calories a day," explained Hartley. "We won’t go below that. We do not advice losing more than two pounds a week. We have got to set ourselves realistic targets."

Users can access Nutracheck’s food database by typing in four digits from the barcode of the product. The program then connects to the database and retrieves the fat and calorie content of the item. As well as supermarket products, the system can also offer nutritional advice on popular restaurant dishes and fast food. The program can also suggest healthier alternatives.

Nutracheck started in February 2005 as an online project, but a mobile-based system was released so that people without access to an internet connection would be able to use the system. "The great thing about it is that it’s discreet," said Hartley.

"Many individuals carry their mobile phones 24/7 and having constant motivation and food information is a major factor in losing weight."

The online system is largely used by women aged 18-45. Hartley told E-Health Insider that the mobile service will probably be largely taken up by younger users, and hopefully by more men.

The program costs £5 to download. Phones must be colour and WAP enabled and have GPRS or GMS connections to be compatible with the service.

A similar service, MyFoodPhone, was launched in the US last year, which encourages users to photograph the food they are eating and makes weekly online appointments with dietitians to discuss healthy meal choices.