Shopping Online Could Be the Healthy Choice

Most people know the good-nutrition basics: vegetables good, saturated fat bad. What they might not know, though, is that according to new research from Sydney, Australia, the Internet can lead people to better eating.

Australian researchers wondered whether dietary advice delivered through an Internet shopping system could help people make healthier food choices.

They offered participants who were using an advanced Internet shopping system the chance to receive either general dietary advice, such as "that food is high in fat" or tailored advice that helped shoppers replace items with alternatives lower in saturated fat.

"Try these graham crackers instead of the fudge cookies," for example.

The researchers found that people who got the tailored advice bought foods with less saturated fat, on average, than people who got only general advice. Since the online shopping system is pretty low-cost, the researchers concluded that inexpensive Internet technologies could help people change their eating behaviors for the better.

"Knowledge, as the saying goes, is power," said Dr. David Katz, an ABC News Medical contributor and nutritionist at Yale University.

"It just stands to reason that providing shoppers with better nutrition knowledge empowers them to make better choices," Katz said. "Whether via the Internet, school-based programs or the food package itself, clear indications of nutritional quality help make a healthful diet a bit more accessible."

"The great thing about this result is that it represents a simple, low-cost step that food retailers could make now," said Rachel Huxley, author of the study and director of epidemiology and biostatistics at the George Institute of International Health in Sydney, in a statement announcing the results of the study.

Huxley and her colleagues hope to reach each one of the major Internet shopping operators in Australia to find out whether this shopping program can become available to more people.

Katz is eager to see such programs pop up around America.

"In my view, they can't come soon enough," he said.

And these programs might eventually help even the Americans who do not use them, he said, if consumers' healthy food choices eventually influence the food companies themselves.

"When enough shoppers are knowledgeable about food choices, the food supply itself will improve -- just to keep the customer satisfied," Katz said.