New personal diet calculator compares your eating habits to guidelines

Want to know how closely your eating habits adhere to dietary guidelines?

Want to see how you rank among other Canadians your age?

Want to learn how you can change your diet to reduce your chance of a developing a chronic disease?

A new online tool can do all that for you.

The Dietary Pattern Calculator (DiPaC), developed by a cross-Canadian team led by University of British Columbia assistant professor Dr. Mahsa Jessri, is a screening tool that can help anyone make healthier food choices and for health-care providers to integrate food and nutrition information more easily into their practice.

The Canadian Journal of Dietetic Practice and Research published the methodology behind DiPaC.

“In under 15 minutes, DiPaC can capture how healthy your diet is overall, compare it to other Canadians of the same age and sex, and provide tips on how to change your eating habits for the better,” said Dr. Jessri, assistant professor in the Faculty of Land and Food Systems and Canada Research Chair in Nutritional Epidemiology for Population Health. “This assessment could become part of everyone’s electronic medical records and be used to identify patients who could benefit from a referral to a dietitian.”

DiPaC asks its users a series of short questions about their physical activity and home-cooking practices, and how often they eat from nine food groups like sugar-sweetened beverages, fast foods, salty snacks, dark green and orange vegetables, fruits, legumes, and whole grains, among others.

Dr. Jessri’s research team identified these food groups as the strongest predictors of diet quality and non-communicable disease risk by studying the eating habits of more than 13,000 Canadians, as reported in the nutrition-specific version of the Canadian Community Health Survey.

Encouraging education and discussion around food as preventative medicine is important because what people eat can greatly affect their risk of chronic disease. According to a 2022 report from Diabetes Canada, 74.6 per cent of Canadian adults are not eating enough fruits and vegetables, and 46.2 per cent are physically inactive.

DiPaC was developed based on a North American diet using Canadian food surveys and nutritional data, so it won’t work for everyone — especially those adhering to special diets or with certain diseases, Dr. Jessri said.

Anyone can access DiPaC online at Project Big Life, a website that curates a number of health indicator calculators, led by Dr. Douglas Manuel, senior scientist in clinical epidemiology program at the Ottawa Hospital and distinguished professor in family medicine and public health at the University of Ottawa.

This research was funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), a Banting Foundation Discovery Grant, and the TD AI in Medicine (AIM) Hub at The Ottawa Hospital.