by Thomas Barclay
December 5, 2003
For years, some folks have dreamed
of having a hand-held nutrition calculator that you can
carry in your vest pocket. Then, at every meal, you could
whip out your little machine, hit a few buttons, do some
nutritional calculatin' and eat only the best-and leave the
rest. Fortunately, we have the next best thing: Internet
nutritional calculators as well as books and nutrition
nudges that can prod and educate you into consuming a
healthier diet. (And if you have a PDA, that vest-pocket
calculator is actually within reach.)
When you apply nutritional calculation, you reap instant
benefits, giving your body top-notch foods to stay healthy
and avoid disease.
For instance, when you log onto a nutritional calculation
website like www.daysworth.com (more about these nutritional
calculators in a moment), one of the first things you should
let it calculate is your saturated fat intake: figuring ways
to bring it down could possibly save your life.
All that saturated fat that you may be eating in ice
cream, cheeseburgers, fried chicken, etc., leads to a
cascade of physiological events that raise the risk of
cancer. Consume a cheeseburger, with its 562.83 calories,
15.04 grams of saturated fat and 87.6 grams of cholesterol,
and you lead your body to produce too much lithocholic acid,
a substance that plays a key role in colon cancer.
"Lithocholic acid is highly toxic, and it builds up in a
high-fat diet," notes David Mangelsdorf, PhD, professor of
pharmacology at Howard Hughes Medical Institute at the
University of Texas Southwestern. "We don't know how it
causes cancer; but it is known to cause cancer in mice, and
people with colon cancer have high concentrations of it."
The problem with cheeseburgers and their fatty contents is
that when the liver breaks down that supersized clump of
cholesterol, the process ends with an oversupply of
lithocholic acid, a bile acid that ends up in the
intestines. There it can stimulate the process that leads to
cancer cell formation (Science 5/16/02).
"The rate of colorectal cancer is much higher in the
United States... than in Japan, where people don't eat a lot
of fat and colorectal cancer is almost nonexistent," notes
"Our bodies can handle slight changes in lithocholic acid
that come from a normal diet, but not a high-fat diet," he
says. "The current American diet can provide more fat on a
daily basis than a human being was ever meant to handle."
Teasing out where your dietary saturated fat is coming
from is easy on a website like www.daysworth.com. By simply
entering the foods you eat during the day into the
calculator on this site, you can analyze your daily intake
of calories, vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates, fats and
For instance, suppose on Monday you eat:
Breakfast: scrambled eggs and sausage with hash browns,
toast and butter, orange juice, coffee and non-dairy
Lunch: cheeseburger, regular fries, chocolate milkshake.
Snack: Milky Way candy bar, can of cola.
Dinner: fried chicken, mashed potatoes with butter,
iceberg lettuce, string beans, glass of root beer and
chocolate pudding for dessert.
Snack: potato chips and water.
Enter all of those foods into daysworth.com and you find
that your daily calories are about 4,000, your salt (4,700
mg) is too high, your vitamin E (8 units) intake is low and
you're missing out on potassium-rich foods and fiber. Other
potential nutritional difficulties in those meals include a
heavy dose of saturated fat (56 grams) and cholesterol
(topping 650 mg).
The calculator will lead you to better sources of vitamin
E (like almonds), potassium (almost any fruit) and fiber
(whole-wheat breakfast cereals with fruits and nuts).
The latest technological twist: If you have a PDA, you
can download the USDA nutritional database. Visit
Figuring It Out
A host of other sites can help your calorie and
For calculating the amount of calories you need during
the day you can consult www.wvda.org/calcs, a website run by
the West Virginia Dietetic Association.
Nutritional Analysis Tools and System (NATS), which
resides at nat.crgq.com/mainnat.html, can help you find
foods that will aid your nutrition program. And over at
gnutrition.sourceforge.net, you can download nutrition
analysis software called Gnutrition. It contains data on 81
nutrients for over 5,000 foods.
Aside from websites, books like The Nutrition Desk
Reference (Keats) by Robert Garrison, Jr., MA, RPH and
Elizabeth Somer, MA, RD, or Food-Your Miracle Medicine (HarperPerennial)
can also help you calculate a more healthful diet.
A pleasant surprise as you navigate your way through
these calculators: Healthy food tastes good, too! You don't
have to sacrifice food to get the nutrients you need. Just
calculate, calculate, calculate!