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Less than meets the eye. (Surfin' USA).

* www.nutrition.gov. It's touted as "easy access to all online federal government information on nutrition." While some of its material is useful, much isn't. When we searched for the "Atkins diet," for example, the first document to pop up was an unedited transcript of a three-year-old debate in which Robert Atkins was one of seven participants. The second was a list of 13 links to "Fraud and Nutrition Misinformation," only one of which was about the Atkins diet (and it was one-sided and outdated). And the third was a 1981 U.S. Postal Service complaint against a company for selling an anti-wrinkle supplement (Atkins was an expert witness).

www.nal.usda.gov/fnic. It may be the place to go to find out what's in just about any food, but for other information, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food and Nutrition Information Center isn't what you'd call user-friendly. When we searched for "trans fat," for example, up came a technical scientific paper about food analysis that only laboratory wonks would find useful. The next document was a USDA timeline from 1892 to 2002 showing that the agency released its first analysis of foods for trans fats in 1995. While that may not tell you much, at least the information isn't biased.

* www.eatright.org. "Should you be concerned about trans fatty acids?" asks an article in the "Healthy Lifestyle" section of the American Dietetic Association's Web site. The answer: "At this point, it's not clear." H-e-l-l-o? The National Academy of Sciences has told the public to eat as little trans fat as possible because there is no safe level. That's why the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has announced that it will require that labels list the amount of trans fat in foods. What's not clear about that? (What is clear is that some of the ADA's funding comes from food manufacturers that use trans fats in their products.)

* www.navigator.tufts.edu. This industry-funded site rates hundreds of nutrition Web sites for accuracy, depth, timeliness, and usability. While the Tufts University dietitians who do the reviews identify some worthwhile sites, they persistently favor mainstream government, academic, and industry Web sites that support the status quo and avoid controversy.

For example, Navigator gives one of its highest ratings to www.ific.org, the Web site of the industry-funded International Food Information Council (IFIC). Guess they didn't look at IFIC's "Questions and Answers about Mercury in the Environment and Food," which ignores major research showing that mercury in seafood may harm children. And they must have missed the "Questions and Answers About Trans Fat," which stubbornly refuses to admit that trans increases the risk of heart disease.

Also receiving a "Better than Most" rating: the pork industry's site (www.porkandhealth.org), which implies that pork is nutritionally comparable to "white meats" like chicken and turkey and ignores the controversy over the environmental damage caused by the factory farming of pigs.

* Phony "Public-Service" Sites. They're designed to look like public-service sites, and they provide some information about health. But they're really reaching for your wallet. And, in most cases, it's impossible to figure out who's behind them.

Take www.bones-and-osteoporosis .com. The slickly designed site, which appears near the top of Google searches for "preventing osteoporosis," offers "straight" talk about the disease. But the talk is window-dressing to lure visitors into buying expensive dietary supplements or participating in drug trials run by major pharmaceutical companies. (Recruiting volunteers is a lucrative business.) The only clue that the site may not be public-spirited: At the bottom of the Home Page, in tiny print, are the words "Copyright W3Commerce, Inc." (W3Commerce of San Diego, California, manages Web sites for drug and food companies.)

Some other sites registered to W3Commerce: diabetesanddiet.com, about-hypertension.com, depression-and-anxiety.com, about-migraine-treatments.com, and preventing-obesity.com. (Whenever you see .com at the end of a Web address, remember that somebody may be trying to sell you something.)

RELATED ARTICLE: The best sites for disease facts.

These two sites are stronger on diseases than on foods and nutrition. If you want quicker results on nutrition, start at WebMD.

www.medlineplus.gov is maintained by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the world's largest medical research institution. The site has links to reliable information on more than 500 health topics, plus access to medical dictionaries, a medical encyclopedia, facts about thousands of drugs, information on alternative therapies like Tai Chi and acupuncture, and directories of hospitals, specialists, government sites, and health organizations like the American Cancer Society.

www.healthfinder.gov is the federal government's gateway to health information on hundreds of topics. Go to the "Just for You" directory and click on "men" and then "prostate cancer," for example, and you'll be linked to 20 articles on prevention, screening, and treatment from the National Cancer Institute, the National Institute on Aging, the American Academy of Family Physicians, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the American Foundation for Urologic Disease, and major medical school sites.

RELATED ARTICLE: CSPI on the web.

At www.cspinet.org you'll find articles from the current and back issues of Nutrition Action Healthletter; quizzes to help rate your diet and see how much you know about vitamins, fat, and harmful bacteria; information on which food additives are safe or not; guides to help you shed unwanted pounds, lower your blood pressure, and reduce your cholesterol; and a link to www.smartmouth.org, our Web site for kids.
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Title Annotation:nutrition Web sites
Publication:Nutrition Action Healthletter
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 1, 2003
Words:912
Previous Article:Untangling the Web. (How to Find Useful Nutrition & Health Information On Line).
Next Article:The big dip. (Healthy Cook).
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