I enjoy browsing through the Internet to get the most up-to-date nutrition information. Lately I've been reading a lot of conflicting and seemingly unrealistic information on some sites. How can I decipher between a nutritionally sound website and a fraudulent one?
With the popularity of the Internet these days, there is a seemingly endless amount of information available. Nutrition information is no exception. Unfortunately, there is little policing when it comes to the content found on nutrition sites, which leaves a lot of space open for anyone to publish a site and make a nutritional claim. To avoid falling victim to false information ask yourself the following questions first:
What are the credentials of the person(s) offering advice?
Determine if the person offering advice has credentials in nutrition from an accredited college or university. Their credentials should be listed somewhere on the website. A registered dietitian (RD) is your best source for the most up-to-date and accurate nutrition information. In order to receive the credentials 'RD' the individual must have completed a four-year bachelor's degree in nutrition or related science, completed a nine to 12-month internship at an accredited institution, and passed a national registration exam to practice nutrition. To maintain their credentials, they must also participate regularly in continuing-education programs approved by the American Dietetic Association.
What is the site's purpose and objective?
The purpose and/or objective of the site should be available to the reader. This will allow you to determine if the objective of the site is to sell a product, provide a service or state a point of view. The site's informational content should also be free of any advertisements.
What are their nutritional claims, and do they have scientific evidence to back their claims?
Are their nutritional claims based on testimonials, or is it sound scientific evidence referenced to the reader and published in a peer-reviewed journal such as The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition? Do not bank on someone's personal experience. Make sure enough research has been done in the area to make recommendations for the population at-large.
Do they promise quick and dramatic results?
Site's offering quick fixes or magic bullets are a telltale sign of a fraudulent nutrition site. Almost all nutrition programs require time to take effect, especially when weight loss is your goal. Do they provide you with guidelines you can follow for life, or is it a quick fix with few to no follow-ups or weight-loss maintenance recommendations? A good nutrition program offers continual reinforcement and support and provides behavioral changes that you can use for the long-term.
Are whole food groups being omitted from the diet plan?
Nutritionally sound diets (even diets aimed at losing weight) contain foods from all of the food groups. Eliminating whole food groups is generally contraindicated as it can diminish your intake of a variety of essential vitamins and minerals. How does the author recommend you receive the vitamins and minerals found in the omitted food groups? Consumers should be weary of programs offering a "magic" food or pill to be taken daily. You can also bet it will probably cost more than buying whole foods alone.
Do they recommend pills or supplements?
Many sites claim our food supply is reducing in nutritional value and that the processing of foods changes their nutrient content. However, many companies often over emphasize this point. While it is true processing of foods does destroy some nutrients, other nutrients are commonly added back to foods. Eating a balanced, variety of foods each day will provide you with all of the nutrients you need.
Also be wary of programs recommending exceedingly high doses of vitamins and minerals (megadosing). Some sites will try and convince you that our current vitamin and mineral recommendations are not adequate for optimal health. All of the vitamins and minerals that you need for optimal health can be found in eating a variety of foods from all of the food groups each day. What's more, certain foods contain other substances such as dietary fiber and phytochemicals that offer a heart protective benefit not found in most pills and supplements.
Does the site contain special tests or questionnaires to determine your nutritional status?
The Internet contains an exorbitant amount of information, often making it difficult to decipher what is accurate. For this reason, there is ultimately no single replacement for a licensed dietitian or physician to determine your exact nutritional needs and goals. While a simple calculation may be sufficient to determine you caloric needs, a healthcare professional may also use blood work, physical exam or urinalysis to asses your nutritional status.
What is the URL address of the site?
When looking online, consider the sponsor of the information. In general, websites that end in .edu (meaning an educational institution) or .gov (meaning government agencies) tend to be the most credible sources of nutrition information. Websites ending in .org (meaning organizations, often nonprofit) also can be a good source of information, along with some sites ending in .com (meaning commercial sites). The key is to be a savvy consumer. If in doubt, ask a registered dietitian or other health care provider to help you evaluate a website before you put too much value on the information it provides. Also look to see if the site is affiliated with a nationally-known health organization such as the American Dietetic Association (ADA), the American Heart Association (AHA), or the American Medical Association (AMA).
Are there regular updates and postings?
- Reliable websites should be regularly updated to reflect the most current nutrition information and advice available. Do keep in mind, though, that being current doesn't necessarily mean it's accurate.
- Asking yourself these questions can help you avoid fraudulent and sometimes dangerous information found on the Internet. Remember, if it sounds too good to be true it probably is.
- American Dietetic Association can provide you a listing of accurate and reputable nutrition websites.
For more information on a heart-healthy diet plan, please contact the Preventive Cardiology and Rehabilitation Program at 216.444.9353 (or toll-free at 800.223.2273, extension 49353) and we can schedule a nutrition consultation - or - use our Remote Cardiac Nutrition Counseling Services.