Virtual estimation: Internet program helps users determine nutrient intake and needs

Virtual estimation: Internet program helps users determine nutrient intake and needs – Brief Article

James Painter

The Nutrition Analysis Tool (NAT) was first published on the Internet in June 1996. With its development, people with access to the Internet can analyze what they eat. As a result, NAT empowers people to take an active role in promoting a balanced diet and adherence to a host of dietary regimes.

Over the past 4 years, NAT has expanded to include an on-line program for diet analysis, energy expenditure estimates, and nutrition education. This Web site consists of 3 tools: the Energy Calculator for determining energy needs, the Nutrition Analysis Tool for information on energy and nutrient intake, and the Soy Information Page, which provides nutrition education information, NAT allows users to estimate the nutrients for more than 6,500 common food items. The database uses the US Department of Agriculture Handbook #8 and provides the percentages of the recommended daily requirements for 17 nutrients.

This program is easy to use. It requires the user to input a brief, personal profile and input of foods consumed, including portion sizes; NAT then quickly estimates the nutrient content of the food. For example, the site allows users to determine if their dietary fat intake is too high and can provide them with a list of more healthful food choices.

Many people from around the world have been helped by NAT to maintain an ideal weight In addition, the Web site has been used as an education tool for proper nutrition. The 3 tools available on NAT receive more than 1 million per month from consumers in more than 80 different countries (Figure). A large number of the hits also come from employees of commercial organizations (301,374 hits in April 2000), nonprofit organizations (275,962 hits in April 2000, the US government (4,084 hits in April 2000), and the US military (13,101 hits in April 2000). Faculty, staff, and students at educational institutions compose the majority of visitors to the Nutrition Analysis Tool Web site, with 329,487 hits in April 2000. Some of the schools using the program include Michigan State University at East Lansing; University of Michigan at Ann Arbor; University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; Purdue University, Lafayette, Ind; St Louis University, St Louis, Mo; Indiana University at Bloomington; and University of Illinois a t Urbana-Champaign.

The Energy Calculator Tool allows users to calculate the energy expenditure needs for every hour of the day. Two forms-one simple and one advanced- are available from the Energy Calculator. The simple form provides a quick, easy way to understand analysis of energy expenditure, whereas the advanced form provides more accurate information regarding energy expenditure. Users input information–weight, height, age, gender, information regarding pregnancy or lactation, and level of activity in hours and minutes–using the appropriate text boxes and pull-down menus. When used in conjunction, NAT and Energy Calculator can provide users with information necessary for determining if consumed energy matches energy expended from daily activities.

NAT has been used as an educational tool in dietetics courses at the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana, such as Introduction to Nutrition and Quantity Food Production & Service. In the introductory course the program has been incorporated as part of a diet analysis project, whereas the students enrolled in the Quantity Food course use it to evaluate test recipes for nutritional content.

NAT is useful for dietetics practitioners in assessing the nutritional adequacy of their clients’ diets. Dietetics professionals could also direct their clients to use the tool themselves, providing them with the opportunity to learn more about the nutritional content of the foods they eat and to empower them to make more healthful food choices.

Nutritional Analysis Tool software version 2.0 was published on the Internet in August 1999. By April 2000, the total number of hits per month had increased by 5 times since its release. NAT version 1.0 is still used frequently, and the number of hits per month had increased from 1998 to 1999. Version 3.0–which will allow users to add foods specific to their dietary intake that are not already in the NAT database–is currently in development.

NAT was codeveloped by James Painter and Christopher Hewes and funded by the Council on Food and Agriculture Research, Partnership Illinois Grant, and the Illinois Soybean Operating Board.

Though there are programs similar to NAT available on the Internet, NAT is the only one that, within the same program, allows users to analyze more than one food and provides suggestions for improvements. Compared with other programs, NAT also has the largest number of foods in its database.

James Painter, an assistant professor in the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

COPYRIGHT 2000 American Dietetic Association

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