With the availability of information at our fingertips, on any topic, at any time, we often consult the Internet first. However, when it comes to getting health, diet and nutrition information, it is important to understand that some of the information provided is accurate, while some is not. Below are a few tips to help you identify the differences.
1. Who does the website belong to?
Does the website you're looking at belong to a hospital, a government agency, or a university? These are usually the best sources for reliable health information. While there are other websites that provide accurate information, it will be beneficial to do a little extra detective work to make sure.
2. Who wrote the article?
If you aren't sure about the website itself, take a look at who wrote the material. In general, the most reliable health information regarding diseases or illnesses will come from a doctor, while the most accurate information regarding nutrition will come from a registered dietitian (RD).
According the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, "Health-related Web sites should give information about the medical credentials of the people who prepare or review the material on the Web site." If the information is provided by an individual without a professional background in the topic, it doesn't necessarily mean that the information is incorrect, but it could possibly include misinformation or myths.
3. What's the difference between a nutritionist and a registered dietitian?
A registered dietitian is a legally protected title that describes a person who has a bachelor's degree in dietetics, nutrition or nutrition sciences; completed a dietetic internship or supervised practice program; passed a registration exam; and keeps up with continuing education credit requirements to maintain their credentials. The title for nutritionists however, in many states, has no credentialing requirements. While some nutritionists may have a degree in nutrition, others may call themselves a nutritionist without any education or training. If you are reading information provided by a nutritionist, it is important to learn more about their background.
4. Is the information scientific and up to date?
Credible nutrition and health information is based on current scientific research. Scientists are finding new information all of the time. Is the website you are looking at providing current information and are they updating their website often?
Furthermore, when considering research results, it is important to know that some studies can be flawed which may lead an author to provide inaccurate or slanted information. The National Institutes of Health urge you to be critical when learning about research. Some questions they recommend you ask are, "was the study in animals or people, does the study include people like you, was it a randomized controlled clinical trial, who paid for the research, who is reporting the results...?" Finding the actual journal article may be helpful, but these are not written for the general public and may be hard to understand.
Easy ways to search for reliable information
One way to get the most reliable resources to appear at the top of your search when looking for nutrition or health information is to type in the topic followed by gov, org, or edu. For example if you type "heart health gov" into your search engine, the first few results will likely be the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Nutrition.gov, Womenshealth.gov, and the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute--all reliable and credible resources backed by science and updated regularly.
Additionally, The Medical Library Association, National Library of Medicine, and American Academy of Family Physicians all have tips and tutorials to help you better navigate and understand how to assess health information.
While the Internet is a helpful tool, keep in mind that your doctor and registered dietitian are the best people for health and nutrition advice. The American Academy of Family Physicians recommends that if you have questions about something you read online, be sure to discuss it with your doctor.
Mandy Seay is a bilingual registered and licensed dietitian who holds both a bachelor's degree in nutrition and in journalism. After gaining 30 pounds while living abroad, Mandy worked to lose the weight and regain her health. It was here that she discovered her passion for nutrition and went on to pursue a career as a dietitian. Mandy currently works as a nutrition consultant and freelance writer in Austin, Texas, where she specializes in diabetes, weight management and general and preventive nutrition. She recently published her first book, Your Best Health, a personalized program to losing weight and gaining a healthy lifestyle. Please visit Mandy's website at Nutritionistics.com.