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Nibble with caution when you go online

Question: With all the information on the Internet about nutrition, how can I sort out scientifically sound material from misinformation?

Answer: Surfing the Web for nutrition and other health information can be enlightening and fun. But surf with caution. The ease of Internet publishing allows unrestricted information to appear on the Web, so there is a lot of misinformation and quackery in cyberspace.

To avoid being misled or "quacked," here are a few words of advice along with some good nutrition or health information Web sites:

Web quackery: Beware of information that:

+ Uses words such as "breakthrough," "miraculous," "overnight results," "revolutionary" and "secret."

+ Makes unsubstantiated claims: "Our soil can no longer supply enough good-quality food."

+ Alleges some kind of conspiratorial theory: "This information is unavailable through regular medical channels and is being sup-pressed by the medical community."

Be skeptical about testimonials and case histories, and don't put faith in people claiming to be the "expert." There are even doctors and other health providers who willingly or unknowingly distort facts and make strong emotional appeals to get us to support a pet theory or to buy something.

Be patient. Use multiple sources to gather information to ensure accuracy.

Finally, use common sense. Remember the adage: If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. Before trying anything new that may affect your health, talk to your doctor, a pharmacist or, in the case of nutrition, a registered dietitian.

Good nutrition and health Web sites:

American Heart Association (Heart & Stroke A to Z Guide): http://www.amhrt.org/

Food and Drug Administration (Food Safety & Nutrition Center): http://www.fda.gov/

National Agriculture Library (Food & Nu-trition Information Center): http://www.nalusda.gov/fnic/

National Arthritis Foundation (Arthritis Facts and Tactics): http://www.arthritis.org/

National Cancer Institute (Cancer Information Center): http://www.nci.nih.gov/

National Center for Nutrition and Dietetics (Nutrition Resources): http://www.eatright.org/nuresources.htm

National Institutes of Health (Health Information): http://www.nih.gov/

National Library of Medicine (Health Information): http://www.nlm.nih.gov/

University of Florida Health ("Keeping Fit" columns): http://www.hhp.ufl.edu/fit/well.htm

Patrick J. Bird, dean of the College of Health and Human Performance, University of Florida, draws on a data base of more than 3,800 medical, health and fitness journals in preparing answers to questions in his column. Write with questions to Dr. Bird, College of Health and Human Performance, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL 32611.

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