The Internet has improved life in so many ways. Especially when it comes to making informed choices about your health.

Maybe you go online to check your symptoms… look up treatments for your uncle’s colon cancer… or search for a tasty low-carb dinner you can prepare for your family. If so, you’re not alone. According to a Health Tracking Household Study by the Center for Studying Health System Change, 32 percent of American adults look to the Internet for health care information.

But this ocean of information can sometimes be harmful. Researchers from the University of New South Wales have found that people could be placing their health at risk by reading only what they want to read. Professor Enrico Coiera told one reporter that “there can be negative consequences if people find the wrong information.”

Not a big surprise.

But despite the sea of misinformation, the Internet offers unparalleled tools to help you make better decisions and navigate your own personalized course to wellness.

To make the most of online health information and become a more savvy surfer, keep your eye out for these five warning signs.

1. Hidden (or Not So Hidden) Interests

If you go to a doctor and you’re surrounded by posters, pens, and magnets promoting pharmaceutical drugs, you’re not surprised when he pulls out his prescription pad, right? You should be just as aware when browsing through health websites.

Take the WebMD and Prevention sites, for example. While they talk a big game about “natural health,” their ads tell a different story. Pull up an article on “sleeping better” and it’s surrounded by ads for Lunesta and Ambien. Click on “heart healthy foods” and you see smiling faces promising a better life if you take Lipitor or Crestor.

I’m not saying you can never trust advertising- supported websites or publications. Many of them (including Early to Rise and Total Health Breakthroughs) have an advertising policy that’s congruent with their editorial policy and core health principles. But when the advertising takes center stage, make sure you take a close look at the affiliations and potential hidden interests that could compromise the advice that’s being giving and potentially harm your health.

2. Advisors Who Contradict Themselves

If you subscribe to certain health newsletters or visit so-called “health” websites, you will often be disappointed to learn that many only add to your confusion and frustration. And you might notice that quite a few “gurus” blatantly contradict themselves.

Take Dr. Andrew Weil, for example. His mantra is to reduce inflammation by eating a nutrient-dense, low-glycemic diet. This is great advice, and you would be well-served to follow it. But many of his actionable recommendations completely oppose this simple concept.

About a year ago, I subscribed to Dr. Weil’s free e-newsletter. And five times in the last year, he has featured cornbread as his “Recipe of the Day” – a recipe that calls for white flour and sugar and scores a blood-sugar-spiking 95 on the glycemic index. I probably don’t have to tell you that this is precisely what you DON’T want to eat if your goal is to reduce inflammation. Thanks, but no thanks, Dr. Weil.

Use your own common sense when you feel your “guru” has fallen short – and don’t be afraid to use the “unsubscribe” link at the bottom of the newsletter.

3. Incomplete Advice

You know that swimming is good exercise. But swimming in chum-filled waters with sharks circling beneath you is probably not a “healthy” choice.

The same is true of health information. It’s important to look at every angle to see the big picture.

Take the recommendation that you should drink eight glasses of water per day. I believe that’s good advice. But what kind of water should you drink? Very few websites that give this advice mention that you should avoid water that has been chlorinated and fluoridated – and that you should stick to purified spring water or tap water that has been filtered to remove chemicals and contaminants.

The same goes for advice about things you should avoid. I often read that “meat is bad because it is contaminated with hormones and pesticides and full of unhealthy fat.” While this might be true of some meat, the advice is incomplete. Advice that covers all the bases would tell you that conventional meats can be full of hormones and pesticides and unhealthy fat. And that’s why you should always insist on organic meats from animals that are raised on their natural diets.

Astute and trustworthy online advisors present all the angles so that you know the hazards and the benefits… and can choose for yourself. Beware of health advice that is one-sided.

4. Costs That Outweigh the Benefits

“Ten grams of fiber per serving” is proudly emblazoned on the online image of a popular high-fiber cereal box. Yet “also packs a hefty 15 grams of sugar” is not.

Here’s another one. An online diet program appears to be affordable and convenient. Until you notice the small caption at the bottom of the page stating you must also purchase all of their packaged foods – at $10/meal. (And they are loaded with artificial sweeteners and other unhealthy ingredients.)

It is no surprise that companies choose to tout the benefits of their products and services while minimizing (sometimes to the extent of deceptively hiding) the drawbacks.

When evaluating health information, be vigilant and read the fine print. Temper the attributes against the potential negatives.

5. Your Own Tendency to Use the Online Sea of Confusion as a Crutch or Excuse

In a recent chat with my aunt, she told me she read an online article about the importance of eating only wild salmon. She threw her hands up in the air and said: “They’re always changing their minds. First it was eat fish, then it was eat salmon. And now they say if it’s farmed salmon it’s worse than not eating fish at all. I give up.”

If you are unhealthy and/or overweight, take responsibility. Do your own research and make your own decisions. And be ready to accept the fact that there is new information available every day. Your health is ultimately in your own hands. It is up to you – and only you – to change it.

And you can! Simply by translating the information and advice you find online into knowledge… and then into action.

Living healthy is not a sacrifice. It doesn’t take a lot of time or money and it doesn’t have to be difficult. Have the courage to put your knowledge into action and be prepared to be pleasantly surprised by the results.

Gravitating Toward Balance

With all of these words of caution, now let me tell you something that will put your mind at ease.

Your body innately knows how to be healthy.

It naturally gravitates toward a state of balance, and, when challenged with illness or stress, can find its way back to health given proper nourishment, rest, and recovery.

While there is certainly a place for emergency medicine, in most cases Western medicine only attempts to mask the symptoms of disease. Medicine rarely addresses the cause.

The way to address the causes of poor health, aches and pains, premature aging, and disease is with nourishing food, sensible supplements, pure water, and vigorous exercise. Your “default” should always be what is natural.

Armed with a discerning eye, the newfound knowledge widely available on the Internet, and the courage to put it into action, the power of prevention and the wealth of wellness is yours for the taking!

[Ed. Note: The Internet has its share of bad advice… but it’s also an excellent resource when you’re trying to get fit and healthy. Now, you can access the latest breakthroughs in weight-loss programs… healthful recipes… and other ideas for achieving optimal health – all from one of the largest integrative medicine practices in the country.

The holidays are right around the corner – along with tons of high-sugar, high-carb holiday goodies. Nutrition expert Kelley Herring can help you survive the holidays with her brand-new recipe e-books, Guilt-Free Desserts and Healthy Holiday Hors d’Oeuvres. Click here for 60+ healthy recipes you can easily make at home.]

Kelley Herring

Kelley Herring is the Founder & CEO of Healing Gourmet – a multimedia company that educates on how foods promote health and protect against disease. As a young adult, Kelley battled a debilitating health condition that went misdiagnosed by multiple doctors for more than a year. Finding no help from “modern medicine”, she turned to her own knowledge of biochemistry and her passion for health research. She soon learned that her symptoms were related to nutrition and within weeks, she charted a course back to health with nothing more than simple lifestyle changes and the power of the plate. The lessons she learned spawned the creation of Healing Gourmet.
Kelley is a firm believer in vigorous exercise, moderate sun exposure and delicious, healthy, home-cooked meals. She is also the creator of Healing Gourmet’s Personalized Nutrition Software and Editor-in-Chief of the Healing Gourmet book series published by McGraw-Hill including Eat to Fight Cancer, Eat to Beat Diabetes, Eat to Lower Cholesterol and Eat to Boost Fertility.