Web site helps discover shape of diet

Posted: Sunday, November 04, 2001

You've no doubt heard of the Food Guide Pyramid. If you've wondered how your diet compares to the pyramid but don't like to do the number crunching, here's an easier way to find out.

The Interactive Healthy Eating Index (IHEI) is an online dietary assessment tool developed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion. The IHEI measures how well the American diet complies with the recommendations of the pyramid and the dietary guidelines for Americans.

You can find the interactive IHEI at www.usda.gov/cnpp/. Once you get to the Web site, log in as a new user. From there, enter the foods you consumed in a day, the serving size for each food and the number of servings. Once a food is entered the matches for that food appear.

For example, I typed in milk and 203 matches appeared. The program suggested I be more specific. When I typed in skim milk it drastically reduced the number of matches making it easier to select the food item.

It does take time to enter all the food items consumed in a day. However, once all the foods are entered, you can analyze your dietary intake in four different ways. One analysis is your IHEI score, which includes a total score as well as a score that rates your diet in 10 different components. The components include grains, vegetables, fruit, milk, meat, total fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium and variety. The IHEI section also contains nutrition messages about the quality of your diet related to these components.

The program also calculates the nutrient intake and offers recommended intake information for 25 nutrients.

If you are a visual person you will enjoy the Food Guide Pyramid analysis. This one shows you what shape your diet is in. It may not be the shape of a healthy pyramid. One day my dietary intake was so bad it looked like a "heap" of blocks!

The fourth way the site analyzes your food intake is with the Healthy Eating History. You can enter your dietary intake for up to 20 days. In this section you can view graphs of your IHEI scores, nutrient intakes, and component scores over time. Keeping track of what you eat over several days gives a better picture of your true eating habits.

I found this site to be very user-friendly and useful. If you've never done a diet analysis before you may find it tedious to enter the food items. However, if you are at all curious as to how healthful your dietary intake is, it is well worth the investment of time.

Linda Athons is an agent at the Alaska Cooperative Extension office on Kalifornsky Beach Road in Soldotna. She is a home economist and involved in the 4-H/Youth Development programs.

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