Experts Rate Online Calorie Counters

SparkPeople Calorie Counter

Although the advertisements occasionally get in the way of the content, diet experts gave this site high marks because of its ease of use and its ability to track diet and fitness plans.

"I loved the goal range for calories and macronutrients," said Madelyn Fernstrom, director of the Weight Management Center at the University of Pittsburgh. "There is no perfect number but you want to fall within a certain range... [There is] structure, but not rigidity."

SparkPeople also has a huge database of foods with accurate nutritional data. Part of this database is culled from the USDA's food data, but a large portion is generated from verified user submissions. Grant Miller, a spokesperson for SparkPeople, said that, to date, the site has verified nutritional information for about 15,000 foods in its databse.

"It's a very positive, upbeat site," Ayoob said. "Big on motivating you, but many people will like the motivation aspect."

WebMD Diet Assessment

The WebMD diet assessment is a detailed questionnaire about daily food intake and, once finished, it gives you a break down of what was eaten by nutrient groups: calories, proteins, carbohydrates, fibers, lipids and cholesterol, as well as a list of how many vitamins and minerals you are getting.

Although the assessment is best for catching of-the-moment trends in eating habits, which is most useful if you are eating a standardized diet each day, it can point out trends and glaring insufficiencies in your diet and their potential results. Deficient in iron? You risk fatigue and anemia. Do you drink a glass of wine four to five times a week? That is acceptable and may help protect against heart disease.

Coupled with WebMD's vast health resources, the assessment can help show you how to proceed with changes in diet and exercise to reach your goal weight.

But the sheer volume of information on such websites may make visiting them a daunting or distracting venture. Restricting time on the site might help users stay focused.

"There's so much information here you really have to be focused and keep your eyes on your goal," Ayoob said. "Keep your visits short and spend more time being physically active -- not just reading about physical activity on the internet."

My Calorie Counter

My Calorie Counter was deemed serviceable, if a bit underwhelming, by experts. The food selection is good and the breakdown includes the most essential nutritional information (fat, carbohydrates, cholesterol, sodium, fiber, sugars, proteins and calories), although vitamin and mineral contents are not included.

"I do like it that there are some blogs," Fernstrom said.

Blogs can be an effective way to get specific information or network in order to stick to weight loss goals. "It's part of a package of things to do."

The site also allows users to track their exercise habits as well as their diets, a major component of the weight battle.

My Food Buddy

Surfer, beware. Diet experts warn against sites that appear to be pushing agendas other than health or nutrition.

"The site tempts you with bits of information, but the real story is only revealed with the purchase of the e-book written by the author," Ayoob said. "I'd pass on this one."

In addition, tracking food at My Food Buddy is a complicated process. Daily food intake must be submitted to the site along with detailed nutrition information from the food labels. Beverages get counted separately.

"People won't do this for long," Diekman said.

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