With so many nutrition-related Web sites clamoring for your attention, sorting through the pile to find impartial and safe information can be frustrating enough to send you on a drive-thru binge.
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Here are some basic tips for sussing out sites that are worth the click.
As a general rule, sites with the extensions .gov, .edu and sometimes .org contain accurate, unbiased information, says Jeanne Goldberg, a professor of nutrition science at Tufts' Friedman School of Nutrition.
But legitimate commercial sites — usually with .com endings — can be more user-friendly.
The trick with commercial sites is to look for a stamp of legitimacy, Goldberg says, such as an affiliation with a well-known organization, and to avoid being sucked into a sales gimmick.
The best sites for general health and nutrition offer multiple tools, such as calculators for calories, carbohydrates and body mass index, meal planning charts and comprehensive information on individual ingredients and products.
As with all research online, try to verify the source of the information. The most important thing is to look at the site's sponsor, says Gail Woodward-Lopez, associate director at the University of California-Berkeley's Center for Weight and Health.
For instance, food manufacturers or lobbying groups, which often use .org extensions, may have conflicts of interest, such as extolling the virtues of products, treatments or even other sites that they have a financial interest in. If the site belongs to an individual, be clear on the person's credentials.
Also, try to use sites that offer evidence for their advice, such as studies or footnotes that allow you to evaluate the source. And avoid sites that offer a "silver bullet."
"If they point to one very specific food as if it's the solution, or a specific vitamin or mineral, that's a red flag," Woodward-Lopez says. "If it's too much of a dream come true, it probably is a dream."
Some sites to consider:
This extensive food database offers at-your-fingertips information on carbs, calories, fat, protein, fiber and other elements of common foods, and does so in realistic and customizable portions. Includes generic foods, name brands and fast food options.
Also provides thorough explanations of food building blocks (what is protein, what does it do, how much do you need?). Like many commercial sites, it sells scales, blood pressure monitors and diet plans, but the pitch is unobtrusive and all the good information is free. Affiliated with Boston-based Joslin Diabetes Center, the world's largest diabetes research center.
Though aimed at diabetics, the site contains great nutritional information for anyone who cooks. Offers tips for cramming more healthy foods into your lifestyle. Best feature is My Food Advisor, which offers food suggestions based on the amount of carbs, calories or fiber you're after, and lets you calculate the nutritional value of meals you prepare.
The federal government's resource for general information on healthy eating and living. The best feature is a menu planner that creates a bar graph of your nutritional needs, based on body type and exercise habits. Also includes a fun space-themed game to teach children about making healthy choices.
Excellent source of general nutrition information. The site is somewhat heavy on fact sheets and tips from food manufacturers, but the information is good, the authors are clearly stated and each entry is vetted by ADA's review board.
Owned by CondeNet, the Web arm of Conde Nast Publications, this site is jammed with helpful calculators, including one that will do a nutritional analysis of your recipes. It even has search tools that help you find ingredients high or low in specific nutrients, such as low sugar or high fat.
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