Food diaries can help us manage our weight, reach our daily goals for fruit and vegetable intake, and avoid too much sodium. But they also lack the references tables we need, require too much time to complete, or simple bore us. And so the journal sits gathering crumbs on our kitchen counters.
Enter the web-based food diary. Access to many good ones cost money, but America Online's MyDietJournal is free. It has a clear, well-organized user interface and a number of nice features that allow the user to quickly and accurately enter data. It is primarily weight-management oriented, but also tracks a number of other nutrients as well as exercise. The foods database is extensive, with items from the USDA National Nutrient Database as well as name-brand products. And users can add their favorite foods, as well.
After logging in, the user sets up a Profile. (Each account can handle up to three profiles.) The Profile records age, gender, height, weight, and desired weight loss. From this information the program generates Recommendations, which are always available under the menu tab of the same name.
The Recommendations were my first surprise from this program; I had no idea the number of calories I need for my activity level was so low or how severely I must cut back calories to lose two pounds a week.
If the user wants to list his food intake he selects the Food menu tab. The program searches its database for food items typed in the search box and offer a list of choices. the user picks one (or goes out to the Database menu item and enters a new food item). The food is added to the daily list. At this point the user can modify the entry regarding the amount of the food eaten.
I could easily see the wisdom of limiting my morning peanut butter to one tablespoon rather than the two tablespoons of a standard serving.
The Reports menu can display summary data in a number of different formats. The user can look at a bar graph and see a running total of the number of calories, milligrams of fiber, etc, he has eaten thorough out the day, or the percent of various nutrients in his daily diet.
This chart provided the next little shock; by 10 AM I had already consumed over half of the saturated fat recommended for the day. I generally know the calorie counts of foods and keep track of my intake, at least when I choose to pay attention. However, this program easily illustrated how much I overdo the fats without realizing it.
Other reports show which foods accounted for the most calories, the most fats, etc. The leftover macaroni and cheese for lunch was really a bad idea, and MyDietJournal tells me just how bad. But on a positive note, it also graphically illustrated the awesome vitamin A content of my sweet potato dinner.
I found data entry in this journal easy and enjoyed letting it look up the calories for me. Having quick access to other nutrient data for foods and an ongoing picture of my dietary balance throughout the day were both pluses as well.