The internet is a dazzling arena with a lot of information bouncing around, waiting for people to read and absorb. But there is one major flaw with having so much advice flying around: information overload. How do you know what to believe and what not to believe?
People are free to speak their own minds online. And when it comes to health and nutrition, everyone seems to have their own stance. Hence, in search of accurate health and nutrition advice, it is critical to read online information with the discriminating eye of a food critic, picking up hints to decide for yourself whether or not the information is credible or if the writing is merely nonsense.
To supercharge you to become a master food critic, here are four questions that can guide you to pinpoint out credible health and nutrition articles:
The website that hosts the article you’re interested in is a telltale sign of how valid the information is. When the article is hosted on websites of credible health organizations, such as the Canadian Diabetes Association or Health Canada, you can be assured that the information presented will be accurate and valid. On the other hand, if you come across a health article written by some unknown individual, hosted on a personal website or blog, then you need to be more critical of what you see and read, and apply the next guideline to help you determine if you should continue reading the health article.
Considering that everyone can say whatever they want on the Internet, it is essential to pick out authors who write responsibly. It is hard to hold anyone accountable online for what they say, so it is best to learn a little bit about the author’s background and that will help you determine how credible that person is. One easy way to find out a person’s background is to look for any titles he / she may hold; look for abbreviations that identify them as health professionals, e.g. MD and RD. Having those titles identify them as experts in the health and nutrition field and tells you that they are a credible source for health and nutrition knowledge. Another way to learn more about the author is to read the “About” section (this is especially important when you read blogs!). Written by the author him/herself, the About page offers a quick glimpse of the author’s personal background and that will help you to better understand the motives and interests of the author. Based on that plus the feeling you get from the author’s writing style and tone, you will be able to get a pretty good sense of whether the author is sincere, or whether the author is just goofing around. Based on my own encounters, I find that authors who write in a sincere manner (doesn’t necessary mean formal though) genuinely cares about sharing their own knowledge and experience with the rest of the world and the information they present are often quite valuable in one way or another.
A Quick Note on Registered Dietitians (RD): Registered dietitians are health professionals that have received extensive education on food and nutrition. Dietitians know how food works in the body. They know how to enjoy food in ways that will maintain and promote health. They are also trained to provide nutrition support to enhance the recovery for those people who are ill. Ultimately, dietitians are truly the health experts who have a strong expertise in using food as their tools to promote optimal health. When it comes to food and nutrition, dietitians are really THE number one expert!
When reading the article, it is important to distinguish whether the author is merely expressing his/her own thoughts or is he/she is offering solid advice supported by scientific research findings. Health articles that provide references to relevant scientific papers or include links to other credible sources will be a lot more trustworthy than an article that makes a lot of assumptions without citing any sources what so ever. Watch out for articles that has a heavy use of the word “I”, that often indicate that the author is inputting a lot of his/her personal comments.
The first three steps will help you pick out credible information sources. But even after you have narrowed down the reading list, there is still a ton of information that tries to address whatever concern you have, so it is important to prioritize your readings so you can get the most timely and most relevant information available. Always place most value on the most recent articles because they will give you the most updated recommendations based on the most current scientific research findings.
Knowing how to filter information based on credibility is only the first step. To truly locate information that is helpful and relevant for you, you need to take one extra step. The advice available online does not work for everyone. So it is essential to go through what is available and highlight the suggestions that are most relevant to your situation. First read through the different sources to get different perspectives on the health topics that you care for. This will allow you to gain a thorough insight on the topic. Then from those sources, pick out the advice that you think may be the best fit for you. Never try to force yourself into following recommendations that does not feel right for you. Keep in mind that you are the person who knows your body the best. Perhaps the single most important tip that I can offer you is simple give your best effort to dig out and highlight the advice that works for you, and not try to force yourself into abiding to anything and everything that are being suggested! Listen to your body, you know yourself best – let thyself be in charge of your body and not let someone else’s advice drive you!
Now that you are armed with great skills to identify and extract valid and insightful health information from online sources, I’ll like to introduce you to a few of my favourite websites that I frequently visit for trustworthy, accurate, and relevant health and nutrition information.
WebMD – This website covers a wide range of health topics. The articles are written by MD and RD and they always support their advice with recent scientific research findings. In addition to health articles, this website offers recipes, handy tools to keep your diet in check (food-o-meter and fiber-o-meter), and videos and slideshows that offer clear and simple health and nutrition tips. I especially love the visual guide to portion size . Overall WebMD is a well-rounded site with many credible and useful knowledge.
Mayo Clinic – They have a comprehensive section on Healthy Lifestyle. In particular, I really appreciate that they offer a selection of articles that gives basic knowledge and another section that provides a more in-depth discussion of the various health topics.
World’s Healthiest Foods – This website has a clear mission to identify the top 129 foods that it considers as the “world’s healthiest foods”. For each food, a detailed nutrient analysis is provided, followed by a list of proposed health benefits (with supporting evidence from different nutrition studies, of course).
NutritionData – This website hosts an extensive nutrient analysis database for almost any food you can imagine. When you search for a particular food, the accurate numerical values for the nutrients will be listed, and there will also be a short summary of the food’s rating based on different criteria (weight loss, optimum health, weight gain) and a concise description of the pros and cons of the particular food item that you search. The website also provides a powerful search function that allows you to find foods using different filters (high in fiber, low in carbohydrates, best choice for weight loss, etc.). Additional functions are available for registered members (free to register). Members can use the website as an online food diary – record what you ate in a day and it will generate a detailed diet analysis. Members can also can input their own recipes and the website will generate a food label for that recipe. These two additional functions come in really handy when you need extra support and encourage to keep you committed to healthy living!
Everyone need to know how to find valid and accurate health information online because it can make a dramatic difference in your life. Finding the right information and following the suitable advice will aid you to maintain and even improve your health and help you to avoid falling into the traps of misleading information that will not only not better your health, but more likely ruin your well being in the long run. Being able to distinguish the credible knowledge from silly nonsense can mean such a great deal to your health!
Do you have a favourite site that you always visit when you have a health / nutrition questions?