Watch CBSN Live

Computer And Web Help For Dieting

For the past year I've been a bit of a fitness and diet nut. It started last July when I joined a weight-loss study at Stanford University. During the 16-week study, I was put on a moderate-carbohydrate and low-saturated-fat diet with an increased amount of "good fats" such as olive oil and avocado. I lost about 30 pounds during the study and another 15 pounds since it ended in December.

As you might expect, I used quite a bit of technology to help inform and motivate myself along the way but, sadly, I'm not aware of any technology that can actually take weight off or make you fit. I did, however, find a number of Web sites with great advice and information and was able to take advantage of Microsoft Excel to help track my daily food intake.

Let's start with Web sites, but rather than fill the column with lots of "urls," I have links to everything at That page also includes a link to my rather detailed article, "How I Lost Nearly 50 Pounds and Reduced My Risk of Heart Attack and Diabetes."

The most useful site on my list probably is the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Nutrient Data Laboratory, where you can access a database with nutritional information on just about any food you might possibly eat. The report provides almost everything you would want to know about a food, including calories, carbohydrates, fat, saturated fat and fiber. It does not, however, list trans fats, which have recently been associated with raising cholesterol, but I suspect that information will be added once the food industry starts to report that data.

The database can be searched via the Web or downloaded to your PC for use in Excel or just about any spreadsheet, database or word processing program. Personally, I find it easiest to use the Web-based version, but you have to make sure you press the Enter key after you type in the name of the food (there is no "submit" button).

Another very useful site is the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute's Food Exchange List. This exchange list, which is also used by the American Dietetic Association and the American Diabetes Association, defines just what a portion is when it comes to vegetables, fruits, lean protein, starches, fats and other food categories.

There are several sites that can help you determine the right weight for you. A common indicator, called the "Body Mass Index," or BMI, gives you a general picture of whether you are underweight, at a healthy weight, overweight or obese, which you can determine by entering your height and weight in the National Institutes of Health's Body Mass Index Calculator.

There are also a number of sites that can help you determine how many calories you burn just by breathing or during specific exercises. A 150-pound man, for example, burns about 42 calories per mile cycling or 97 calories per mile running. has a very useful calculator that tells you how many calories are burned per minute or hour doing a wide variety of exercises and activities. A 150-pound person, for example, burns up 288 calories an hour on a 3½-mile walk, but by picking up the pace to 4½ miles per hour, 360 calories get burned.

There are also sites and newsgroups where you can get support from others. These include fee-based professional diet sites like, and and newsgroups like You'll find a free Web-based support group at AOL has a diet and fitness chat room that you can find under the keyword "health."

You'll also find diet information on the major health sites, including and

As mentioned, I kept track of my foods using an Excel spreadsheet. It wasn't anything fancy — just a homemade spreadsheet that kept track of the "exchanges" or portions of starch, protein, vegetables, fruit, milk and fat so I knew how much of each I had eaten in a day. Even if you don't try to restrict your intake, keeping track of what you eat is an excellent way to take stock and, as a consequence of keeping records, you're more likely to control your diet.

A syndicated technology columnist for nearly two decades, Larry Magid serves as on-air Technology Analyst for CBS Radio News. His technology reports can be heard several times a week on the CBS Radio Network. Magid is the author of several books including "The Little PC Book."

Got a PC question? Visit

By Larry Magid

View CBS News In