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Posted at 07:00 AM ET, 12/27/2011

USDA’s new diet-and-exercise tracking tool

There are enough Web sites, smartphone apps and other devices for tracking your daily diet and exercise to make your head spin. And now, with the introduction of the USDA’s new program, there’s one more.

As a smaller-government kind of gal, I didn’t have high hopes for this site; I generally think the private sector does a fine job of providing this kind of service. But I have to say I am pleasantly surprised. The SuperTracker, which is based on the government's dietary guidelines, is user-friendly, informative and graphically clean.

It takes just a minute to register on the site; as you work your way deeper into your personal plan, the site asks for more detailed information about your goals and preferences. But it’s not cumbersome, and each step along the way provides a new layer of useful information. For instance, as soon as I typed in my current weight, age, gender and exercise and weight-loss goals, the site told me how many calories I can consume -- including how many I can spend on “empty” calories (very, very few) -- and then displayed a screen offering a day’s food choices from each food group that fit within that calorie count. Not a miracle, but a nice, smooth process nonetheless.

The nutrition information is limited to the 8,000-odd foods listed in the USDA’s food database, but many other programs use that database, too. People with special dietary needs and preferences may need to play around with the site a bit to make it work best for them.

And of course, there’s room to quibble with the dietary guidelines themselves; some feel that certain food groups are unduly emphasized and others given short shrift. But at least it’s a comprehensive plan, a good place to start, even if you decide to tweak your own diet along the way.

As I have written recently, I no longer wish to obsess over calories and my workout schedule. But that doesn’t mean I plan to stop paying attention altogether. I can see using this Web site to help keep my eating and exercise organized without wasting much time worrying about it. And though nothing that’s taxpayer-supported is technically “free,” you don’t have to pay to use this tool.

I’d appreciate hearing from any readers who try the SuperTracker -- especially those who have experience with other diet-management sites. How does the government’s effort stack up?

By  |  07:00 AM ET, 12/27/2011

 
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