How to evaluate online nutrition info

120145078I can easily find information about nutrition online, but I’m not certain how to tell if it’s reliable. Are there good sources I can trust?

There are plenty of sources of trustworthy nutrition information online — too many to try to list here. But perhaps even more important is learning for yourself how to evaluate information you find on the Web.

Several good sources provide guidance on that. Here are some tips from the National Institutes of Health in its “MedlinePlus Guide to Healthy Web Surfing” ( and from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (formerly the American Dietetic Association) in its Complete Food and Nutrition Guide (Fourth Edition, 2012):

  • First, find details about the source of information. Look for an “about us” page — is the source a branch of the government or a highly regarded health-related organization? Is it a nonprofit or educational institution? Is it a commercial enterprise or an individual’s blog? It’s possible to get good information and ideas on all sorts of sites, but you will want to use extra caution if someone is trying to sell you something or doesn’t have highly regarded credentials. People can be passionate about their food and their diet, but that doesn’t mean they necessarily have the background and expertise you’re looking for.
  • Be on the lookout for claims that sound too good to be true. As with any pitch, a healthy dose of skepticism is called for if a product — even if the “product” in this case is a supplement or a nutrient — promises to be a cure-all or carries some kind of secret ingredient.
  • Weigh the evidence presented. Personal stories and other types of anecdotal information can be compelling, but look for research that has broader implications than “this is what worked for me.” In addition, if research is cited, understand that one study is just a small piece of the puzzle that builds scientific consensus. Look for indications that this study backs up previous findings or, if not, that it offers an explanation about why researchers found something new.
  • Look for evidence of bias. Often, industry funding is necessary to conduct research or develop a website, so that in itself doesn’t mean the information is flawed. But it is a clue that should prompt you to investigate other sources on the same topic to see if there’s another perspective.
  • Be cautious if a site requests personal information. Look for its privacy policy on how it will use that information before sharing.

Why green beans aren’t really ‘beans’

My whole family likes green beans, so we eat them a lot. I recently looked at the Dietary Guidelines and saw we can’t count green beans as beans. Why not?

It’s true. Green beans don’t count in the “beans and peas” category in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. And, perhaps surprisingly, neither do green peas!

The Dietary Guidelines includes subgroups under the “vegetables” category to encourage consumers to get a wide variety of vegetables in the diet. That’s important, because different types of vegetables offer different kinds of nutritional benefits.

When you take a good look at the vegetable subgroups, green beans are counted as “other vegetables,” and green peas are counted as “starchy vegetables.” The reason is simple: The types of vegetables in the beans and peas category have a different nutritional makeup than what you find in green beans and green peas.

The beans and peas group includes mature forms of legumes, such as black beans, kidney beans, pinto beans, lentils, split peas, black-eyed peas (mature and dry), and garbanzo beans (chickpeas). Like other vegetables, they are good sources of fiber, potassium and folate, but they are also excellent sources of protein, iron and zinc.

If you eat about 1,800 to 2,000 calories a day, the Dietary Guidelines recommends that you eat about 1.5 cups of beans and peas over the course of a week.

Because of their unique nutrient composition, beans and peas can also be counted as a protein in the Dietary Guidelines — one-quarter cup of beans and peas equals 1 ounce of a protein food.

You should also try to eat plenty of vegetables in the other subgroups. If you’re eating 1,800 to 2,000 calories a day, try to get:

  • About 5.5 cups a week of red and orange vegetables, including red bell peppers, tomatoes, carrots, winter squash and sweet potatoes.
  • About 5 cups a week of starchy vegetables, including white potatoes, corn, green peas and green lima beans.
  • About 1.5 cups a week of dark green vegetables, including spinach, broccoli, romaine or dark green lettuce, and collard or mustard greens.
  • About 4 cups a week of other vegetables, including green beans, celery, asparagus, onions, mushrooms and zucchini.

For more information about the vegetable food group, including more complete listings of what’s included in each subgroup, see the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s “Choose MyPlate” website at