Calorie Counts by Text Message

Before you order that Big Mac, you can consult your cellphone for guidance.

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I've written before about the power of computer and mobile phone technology to remind you about workouts. Here's another nifty trick: Use your cellphone to get a quick nutritional snapshot of the restaurant food you're about to order.

DIET.com has set up a free service (except for whatever your provider charges for text messages) that gives you info on foods from chain restaurants. Just send a text to DIET1 (34381) with the name of the restaurant, menu item, and size (if appropriate). A few seconds later, you'll get a text back with the calorie count and number of grams of fat, carbs, and protein. You can even start your text with the word points to get the number of Weight Watchers points in a given food. (Get more information at diet.com/mobile.)

None of this information is secret—it is available in the restaurants and on their websites, as well as from the USDA nutritional database. But that information isn't always readily available at the crucial point of sale. This article from Tuesday's New York Times recounts the latest in the battle over New York City's coming requirement that chain restaurants post the calorie content of their menu items.

I tried the text service, and it pays to be as specific as possible. Texting "taco bell burrito" got me the nutritional lowdown for beef burrito supreme rather than the simple bean burrito I was hypothetically considering. And some of the Starbucks info, for example, didn't match up with what's on the corporate website, perhaps because the drinks come in endless variations (size, type of milk, whipped cream/no whipped cream, etc.). A spokesperson for DIET.com says information is constantly being updated and added to reflect menu changes.

Because of that, I wouldn't rely solely on the text service for information on something I eat every day—I'd double-check with the restaurant's website to make sure the calorie and fat content is accurate. But for a quick, on-the-go idea of what's in that which I'm about to eat, this is a handy tool.