Has the barrage of nutrition and health information left you more confused and less motivated to make changes to become more fit and healthy?

The Dairy Council of California has developed a consumer-friendly, interactive nutrition planning tool that tailors nutrition, exercise and weight management recommendations to match your personal health and lifestyle habits.

Available through its web site, www.dairycouncilofca.org, (click on the "Activities" section) the Personal Nutrition Planner customizes general nutrition recommendations by factoring in your age, gender, activity level and risk of chronic disease. Other considerations such as supplement usage, vegetarianism, food allergies or intolerances, or pregnancy can also be added to the mix. The planner targets men and women ranging in age from young adults to seniors. It takes about 10 minutes to navigate from start to finish.

"The planner makes recommendations that clearly focus on foods you should include in your diet, rather than foods that should be avoided or restricted, which has been a common approach in the past," said Dairy Council project manager Lori Hoolihan, Ph.D., R.D. The result is a set of recommendations to choose from that can realistically be incorporated into an individual's diet and lifestyle, according to Hoolihan, who helped develop the planner.

The planning tool has many helpful tips to help you lose, gain or just maintain your weight. It calculates Body Mass Index (BMI) to assess current weight status and estimates how many calories you burn at rest and throughout a normal day -- important considerations for weight management. It also calculates how many calories you should consume, depending on your age, gender, weight, height and activity level.

The planner tells you how many servings to eat from each food group in the USDA Food Guide Pyramid and provides useful information on each food group, including major nutrients and serving sizes. The planner can help minimize risk for chronic disease and even offers recommendations for fluid intake and vitamin supplementation.

Rather than taking the "one-size-fits-all" approach, the planner provides valuable information on nutritional and exercise needs during various life stages. For example, for men and women age 50 or older, the planner pinpoints the need for higher amounts of vitamins B-12 and B-6 and lists food sources and supplementation options for those nutrients. Pre-menopausal and menopausal women will find the planner's list of bone-building, calcium-rich foods and food sources of vitamin D particularly useful to help minimize bone loss associated with osteoporosis. There is also a link to an extensive list of weight-bearing exercises to help keep bones strong. Women of childbearing age can target their nutrition needs for optimal health as well.

The planner is updated regularly to incorporate new research and current nutrition and exercise recommendations. It reflects current research on "functional foods" that contain certain nutrients that have a protective or beneficial effect on health. It also features an extensive resource section with links to other health and wellness web sites and information sources.