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By David Mendosa

Last Update: October 15, 2002

One of the three greatest lies is, "We're from the government, and we're here to help you." I can't find out which cynic was the first to nail this adage as a lie, but it could date to the time of the Pharaohs.

You can search this huge database…of…6,220 foods.

Suspicion of the government is long-standing and undoubtedly often warranted. I know from my own experience, however, that it is not always justified. In an earlier career I became a U.S. Foreign Service officer working for our foreign aid program in Africa, because I wanted to help people.

While I receive much more positive feedback now from my writing about diabetes and nutrition, I know there are many bureaucrats who are dedicated to helping us. Probably none do better work than those in the field of nutrition.

Now the U.S. government has pulled together its many nutrition resources in one portal with a name and address that couldn't be easier to remember. Nutrition.Gov at is a free gateway to consumer nutrition information.

Susan Blumenthal, M.D., U.S. Assistant Surgeon General, spearheaded the development of this new Web site. The Office of the Surgeon General is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Most information linked to Nutrition.Gov comes from that department and from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The site also provides links to the nutrition efforts of 12 other government departments.

The government resources on nutrient data are some of those that I turn to most often. These all come from the Agriculture Research Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Some of the data sets available include the USDA Nutrient Database for Standard Reference. You can search this huge database for dozens of nutrients in more than 7,000 foods.

Searching online works great if you aren't trying to get data on many foods or nutrients. I was able to save a lot of time after I downloaded the database for use on my computer.

The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, which is part of HHS,  links to more than 30 easy-to-read publications on diabetes.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is another agency within HHS. Nutrition.Gov links useful FDA Web pages on the Nutrition FactsPanel and the FoodLabel. The FDA has its own new portal site for its information about diabetes, which I recently reviewed here.

The link to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, also an agency of HHS, still provides the report of the Surgeon General on "Physical Activity and Health." This report calls for vigorous physical activity lasting at least 20 minutes on 3 or more days per week.

Strangely, the Surgeon General's site doesn't have this report on its own site. Even stranger is the fact that Nutrition.Gov doesn't provide a link to the new Institute of Medicine report that recommends that all of us spend at least an hour each day in moderately intense physical activity. This controversial recommendation more than doubles the daily minimum goal set in the Surgeon General's report.

The reason why Nutrition.Gov doesn't link this report is undoubtedly because the Institute of Medicine and its parent organization, the National Academy of Sciences, although created by the federal government to advise on scientific and technological matters, are private rather than governmental organizations.

This is the same report on "Dietary Reference Intakes for Energy, Carbohydrates, Fiber, Fat, Protein and Amino Acids (Macronutrients)" that recommends we get 45 percent to 65 percent of our calories from carbohydrates, 20 percent to 35 percent from fat, and 10 percent to 35 percent from protein. That is also a matter of some controversy.

Currently, the Nutrition.Gov home page focuses on "Managing Your Diabetes." It says there that the American Diabetes Association recommends our diet should be 50 to 60 percent carbohydrates, 10 to 20 percent protein, and less than 30 percent fats. But that's old news. As long ago as 1994 the ADA recommended that we get 60 to 70 percent of our calories from carbohydrates and monounsaturated fat together. The current ADA recommendation is for individualized levels of carbohydrate and monounsaturated fat within the 60 to 70 percent for both nutrients together.

Anyone can find little nits like this to pick in this mass of nutrition data. However, most of it is factual, and the new Nutrition.Gov site is a big help in making it accessible. 

The American Diabetes Association originally published this article on its Web site as one of my “About the Internet” columns.

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