Nutrition and You
Searching the Web for Reliable Nutrition Information
Nutrition and health information is widely accessible on the Internet. Health-related searches are the third most popular online activity, and diet and nutrition information accounts for nearly half of all health-related searches. Nutrition Web sites that pop up in search engines may be eye-catching and easy to navigate, but how can you determine if they provide accurate and reliable information?
Look for Accuracy
By nutrition accuracy we mean scientific correctness. Questions to ponder include: Is the information or health claim backed up by scientific evidence? Do the materials have reference citations? Are the credentials of the author listed? Has anyone reviewed the information, for example, a qualified health professional or medical expert? Does the site have a scientific or medical advisory board? A nutritionally sound or scientifically accurate Web site should also provide a balanced perspective on the topic, with both positive and negative sides of the story visible.
There are many valuable tools to help you become an informed consumer when you navigate the World Wide Web. These tools help identify accurate and unbiased material and distinguish between fact and commercial bias. Two credible gateways that lead you to high-quality health and nutrition information are: www.Healthfinder.gov and the Tufts Nutrition Navigator at http://navigator.tufts.edu. Both the National Network of Libraries of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health have wonderful portals to help you evaluate health Web sites. Visit them at http://wwwnnlm.gov/outreach/consumer/evalsite.html and www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/healthywebsurfing.html.
Consider the Source
Here are a few tips to help you evaluate the source of a Web site when you explore the Internet on your own. In general, addresses ending in “.org” are sponsored by not-for-profit organizations; those ending in “.gov” are sponsored by governmental agencies; and those ending in “.edu” are sponsored by academic institutions. Most nonprofit and governmental Web sites do not contain advertising and access to the site is usually free.
Private or commercially sponsored sites have addresses ending in “.com.” The primary purpose of many commercial sites is marketing or selling a product or service. Commercial sites often provide nutrition and health information, although this may be a secondary goal. It is important to evaluate who provides funding to the site and whether the source of nutrition information is written or reviewed for scientific accuracy by a health care expert with appropriate credentials, or a scientific advisory board with experts in the field.
Some Favorite Sites
A Google search for “nutrition” today yields over one hundred million hits, but this column provides only a brief review of a few of our favorite sites. Future issues of the newsletter will review additional Web sites, especially some reliable “.com” sites.
The government’s Nutrition Web site is provided as a service of the National Agricultural Library of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). The home page provides news feed for current events and spotlights food and nutrition research. The site is easy to navigate and allows searching by topic or browsing by subject. Click on the link for “Nutrition and Health Issues,” where you will find a gateway to Medline Plus (a searchable database with consumer-friendly health information) or on the links to USDA MyPyramid or Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
The “Health Issues” page provides information on: heart health, high blood pressure, diabetes, cancer, weight and obesity, digestive disorders, osteoporosis, eating disorders, food allergies and intolerances, and AIDS/HIV. The “Digestive Disorders” link provides information from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), including a section in English and Spanish called “Your Digestive System and How It Works.” You’ll find plenty of information about gas, heartburn, indigestion, diarrhea, and constipation, too.
Back on the home page, consumers may also enjoy browsing the link for “Shopping, Cooking & Meal Planning,” where you’ll find resources on such topics as food labels, recipes, ethnic cooking, and food safety and storage. In addition there are links for “Dietary Supplements” and “Food Assistance Programs.” Overall the government’s nutrition Web site is informative and current.
The Nutrition Source Web site is maintained by the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health. It is designed to help you achieve the healthiest diet possible and to provide timely information on diet and nutrition. The Web site is colorful and easy to navigate. You will find links to healthy eating, including tips for eating right and for fitting more activity into your day.
The site is searchable for nutrition topics, provides recipes, news, answers to frequently asked questions, and answers from experts on a variety of current “hot” topics in nutrition. The site includes a disclaimer that the information provided is not intended to offer personal medical advice; it does not mention any brand names and does not endorse products.
The American Dietetic Association offers “Food and Nutrition Information You Can Trust.” Click on the link “For the Public” and you will find numerous resources and nutrition education materials. Stay informed by reviewing the “Tip of the Day,” the “Question of the Day,” and the latest food and nutrition updates.
Currently the Web site includes a review of popular diet books on the best-seller list, each reviewed by a Registered Dietitian (RD). Learn about fighting childhood obesity and read all about the new Kids Eat Right campaign. The Web site has a body mass index (BMI) calculator and videos on a variety of food and nutrition topics.
The American Society for Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition (A.S.P.E.N.) is an organization for “helping professionals advance nutrition support.” The home page of the Web site announces current news on topics related to parenteral and enteral nutrition and also provides information for patients and caregivers. You will find patient education materials in English and Spanish, including fact sheets titled “What is Nutrition Support Therapy?,” “What is a Nutrition Support Professional?,” “What is Enteral Nutrition?,” “What is Parenteral Nutrition?,” and Oley’s home enteral and parenteral nutrition complication charts. A.S.P.E.N.’s new patient safety initiatives may also be of interest to Oley consumers. While many of these resources assist your health care practitioners in providing you the best care, there are also downloadable posters for the “Be A.W.A.R.E.” and “Be A.L.E.R.T.” campaigns to prevent enteral misconnections and improve enteral nutrition safety.
ClinicalTrials.gov is a registry of federally and privately supported clinical trials conducted worldwide, offered through the National Institutes of Health. This site allows you to search for clinical trials by topic. We recently performed a search of parenteral nutrition and found over 100 studies currently open to enrollment. Similarly, we found 180 studies for enteral nutrition. It is encouraging to see so many research studies focused on nutrition therapies.
Stay tuned for reviews of more Web-based nutrition information, including a few reliable “.com” sites.
This column has been compiled and reviewed by Marion Winkler, PhD, RD, CNSC; Carol Ireton-Jones, PhD, RD, LD, CNSD, FACN; Laura Matarese, PhD, RD, LD, FADA, CNSD; and Cheryl Thompson, PhD, RD, CNSD.
LifelineLetter, January/February 2011