Home computers can make airline reservations, help children prepare for college entrance exams, entertain with games and even balance the checkbook.
Now home computers can also help their owners lose weight and learn about nutrition.
Today, several hundred nutrition and diet software programs flood the market. To help consumers choose from the plethora of programs, the Journal of Nutrition Education, a quarterly review published by the Society for Nutrition Education, has come to the rescue. The journal formed a review panel of 50 experts in nutrition and dietetics to evaluate the programs for accuracy, user friendliness and the range of diet information. Among the programs receiving high marks are:
* The Balancing Act. Designed for people 17 and older who want to lose weight and maintain a balanced diet. The program sets a weight loss goal for the user, monitors food intake and provides "extensive exercise information."
The review says that the program, despite some minor computer use glitches, is based on "sound nutritional concepts" and could be used to provide "valuable assistance to those wishing to lose weight."
Balancing Act costs $50 and includes a 5 1/4-inch diskette and user's manual. Computers: TRS-80, Model III (48K), disk drive; Apple IIe (48K), disk drive. Monitor required. Available from Soft Bite Inc., Box 1484, East Lansing, Mich. 48823.
* The Calorie Study Program. Designed for high school-age children, Calorie Study is simple to use and takes some "of the tedium out of calorie counting," the review says. The program will calculate a user's calorie expenditure and can figure out ideal body weight based on sex, height, age and other criteria.
The Calorie Study Program costs $29.95, includes a 5 1/4-inch diskette and 10-page user's guide. Computer: Apple II+ (48K), DOS 3.3, disk drive. Monitor required. Available from Clo Wiltse, Volborg, Mont. 59351.
* Dietician. This program helps users balance their daily intake of calories, carbohydrates, protein, fat, cholesterol and sodium. The data base includes nutritional values for 700 foods and allows the user to add 500 more. Additional disks can be purchased to expand the program's capacity further.
What it won't do is plan a diet for the user. That may take some basic knowledge about what constitutes a balanced diet, or it may require some initial advice from a doctor or registered dietitian. But for consumers who know what they should be eating -- or not eating -- the program can provide a running total of daily intake. It also earns praise from the journal for being easy to use.
Dietician costs $61.95 and includes 5 1/4-diskette, a 24-page instruction manual and a carrying case. Computers: Apple II, II+, or IIe (48K), disk drive. Monitor required. Available from Dietware, P.O. Box 503, Spring, Tex. 77373.
* Evryday [sic] Diet: A Nutrition and Diet Guide allows users to create a personal nutrition profile, compare their diets to the recommended daily allowances and design a plan to lose -- or gain -- weight. Not bad for a program designed to help a range of users from young adults to health professionals.
Nutritional values for an estimated 1,000 foods, including fast foods, are included in the data base. More important, this list can be expanded or contracted based on the user's food preferences. Bar graphs offer comparisons of up to 60 days of meals and the nutrients they contain. The program takes the mystery out of figuring the day's calories of protein, carbohydrate and fat, and will even warn users when a food is lacking in important nutrients.
The Evryday Diet costs $59.95 and includes 5 1/4-inch program diskette, 5 1/4-inch food data diskette and 53-page user's manual. Computers: IBM-PC, IBM-XT or Compaq (128K), 1 double-sided disk drive or 2 single-sided disk drives. Monitor required, printer optional. Available from Evryware, 1950 Cooley Ave., No. 6208, Palo Alto, Calif. 94303.
* Inshape is for exercise buffs who are looking for their own coach. It allows users to track diet, exercise habits and weight for 60 days or 52 weeks.
Type in daily food intake, and this program will analyze calories, fat, carbohydrate and protein, plus supply a summary of intake by meal and by day, according to the five food groups. While the program won't admonish exercisers for not sticking to their daily physical routine, it will award points for exercising. It can track intensity and duration of 24 different activities. One drawback: The program lists basic foods and even fast foods, but it "lacks combination foods that the average user may need." Overall, however, it earns high marks from the reviewer for being "useful and interesting."
Inshape sells for $95 and includes a 5 1/4-inch diskette and 69-page manual. Computers: IBM-PC (64K), DOS 1.0 and 1.1, disk drive; IBM-PC (96K), DOS 2.0, double-sided, double-density disk drive. Monitor required, printer optional. Available from DEG Software, 11999 Katy Freeway, Suite 150, Houston, Tex. 77079.
* Nutri-Bytes is offered by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) as a fun and easy-to-use program that teaches about nutrition basics and food additives and even provides some advice on pennypinching at the supermarket.
The program by CSPI, a nonprofit consumer-advocate group noted for taking on the alcohol and the restaurant industries, not to mention food manufacturers, has a number of speciality subsections. "Chemical Cuisine" instructs users about food additives, "Eats and Drinks" takes users through the a b c's of nutrition, and "Chief Pennypincher" analyzes eating and shopping habits and offers advice for improvement. The program also includes a food additive dictionary, a list of publications and a quiz.
Nutri-Bytes costs $39.95 and includes a 5 1/4-inch diskette, three posters and an instruction sheet. Computers: Kaypro (64K), 191-disk-space disk drive; CP/M 5 1/4-inch Kaypro; Osborne DD; Morrow Micro Decision; or TRS-80 Model III, disc drive; CP/M 8-inch IBM format single-sided, single-density; Apple II, II+ or IIe (48K), disk drive. Monitor required. Available from the Center for Science in the Public Interest, 1501 16th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20036.