These points were initially developed by the Food and Nutrition Science Alliance (FANSA). They will help you to analyze what you read and hear in the media and on the Internet.
Finding Helpful Information on the World Wide Web
The Internet is a wonderful resource for people who want another way to find information to help take control of their health. The Web gives a world of information about nutrition issues and topics to anyone with a computer and modem access. A search engine like Yahoo!, Webcrawler or Google is the tool used to look for information on the world wide web (www). Search engines are part of the Internet and one search engine will often find different content than another.
Three types of services are commonly used on-line.
Reliable health related sites are excellent sources of consumer health, food and nutrition advice. You can find information about nutrition and healthy eating all over the Internet. Good articles and fact sheets can be downloaded (copied onto your computer or printed) for your use. The FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) sections of Web sites address common questions asked by the public.
Many health associations relating to a particular concern, such as diabetes, allergies, or heart and stroke, have Web sites where you can find educational information. The bookmark feature of your computer’s web browser software can be used to note favourite sites, so you can return to them easily. Besides facts, you can exchange information and questions and find emotional support with others who share your concern.
Like all sources of information, the Internet has limitations. The ease and flexibility of Internet publishing has given rise to sites that are not regulated or trustworthy. A recent study showed that 60 per cent of the nutrition stories on the Internet had inaccurate or outdated information. Often people mistakenly take this information to be the truth. Less than 10 per cent of the stories on the Internet mention the nutrition credentials of the person presenting the material. It is wise to find reliable sources, such as the Dietitians of Canada Web site and the Canadian Health Network Web site.
While some of the information on the Internet is based on science and is reliable, other sites will tell personal stories or may simply be ads for products related to your concern. As well, information on the Net is often presented in a short or incomplete form. As a result, Web sites often turn out to be less relevant than they first appear. So, while some advice on the Internet is very valuable, it can be hard to tell fact from fiction. Much of what is presented can be misleading.
You are surfing the Internet and come across a Web site that suggests a diet that omits whole groups of foods like starches. Another site suggests 'magic' foods that must be eaten daily. Such Web sites spread new diet fads at the click of a mouse and can produce a lot of false nutrition ideas.
As you assess the quality of a nutrition Web site, you should know that healthy diets, including weight-loss diets, contain foods from all food groups. Omitting whole groups of food lessens your intake of vitamins and minerals from those foods.
Ask questions. How would you get the vitamins and minerals in the foods omitted by this program? What nutrients are provided by the 'magic' foods that they must be eaten daily? If you don’t seek balanced information or ask questions, you may miss the real story. If a Web site does not answer your questions or is incomplete, it is unlikely to be trustworthy.
A rule of thumb is - just because something is printed on the Internet does not mean it is true or credible. There are no absolute markers by which a consumer can judge the quality and accuracy of the material presented. Here are some tips to keep in mind to help you decide if the Web site you are visiting contains accurate information.
Dietitians of Canada Web site:
Canadian Health Network Web site:
Canadian Diabetes Association:
Tufts University Nutrition Navigator site: www.navigator.tufts.edu
If you are not certain whether or not the site you are visiting is accurate and reliable, refer to the Tufts University Nutrition Navigator site. This was the first of several online rating and review guides that solve the two major problems Web users have when seeking nutrition information. Users want to quickly find information best suited to their needs, and to trust the information they find. The site is designed to help people sort through and find accurate, useful and trustworthy nutrition information on the Internet.
Tufts nutritionists review Web sites. They check the content using tests developed by leading U.S. and Canadian nutrition experts. Site reviews are updated quarterly to ensure that ratings keep pace with the constant changes in the Internet and nutrition fields. Only sites whose first focus is nutrition, or those that make a serious effort to cover nutrition information, are reviewed.
Searching the World Wide Web for nutrition information can be overwhelming. Still, one of the marvels of the Internet is that as easily as you can get faulty information, you can search for and find accurate information. Careful study and a healthy dose of doubt can help you sort the sound from the not-so-sound information.