I have been educating myself on healthy nutrition. There is a lot of conflicting information on the internet, and sometimes it’s downright frustrating! Can you help steer me in the right direction?
Believe me, I share in your frustration in regards to nutrition information. The internet has brought nutrition information to our fingertips, but at least half of it is false or misleading. But rest assured, the truth is out there and, in many cases, it’s actually free!
These are just three substantial contributors to the confusion:
1. Nutrition science is in its infancy. There is still a lot we don’t know, especially about nutrition and disease prevention. Scientific studies have certain parameters that must be followed in order to be accepted as sound research. These studies must be repeated in different areas of the world to see if the same results are reproduced. If the results can be duplicated, then we may be on to something. These studies take time, sometimes years.
2. Headlines. Nutrition is a good story, and media outlets report on a nutrition study as soon as possible to be the first one with the story. Who can blame them? It’s part of their job. However, these studies are often misreported, misunderstood, or simply not good science. Remember, there will never be one study that changes everything we believe about nutrition. According to Jeanne P. Goldberg, PhD, professor of nutrition communication at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University, “When information is presented as new and contradicts what has been consistent in the past, it should be regarded critically.” (1)
3. Profit motive. We live in a “Let the buyer beware” society and many capitalize on quack nutrition or junk science. This is not to say that a profit motive in itself is harmful, but avoid those who sell snake oil.
There are ways to protect yourself from nutrition misinformation:
1. Be a smart shopper. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. For example, if a supplement promises to speed your metabolism and melt fat away, don’t waste your time or money.
2. Get your information from reputable sources, such as universities or healthcare institutions. These web addresses will end in .org (non-profit), .gov (government agency) or .edu (an educational institution) (2). Not only do these websites provide sound nutrition information, they accurately report the latest results of research. Examples include: The American Heart Association, The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Mayo Clinic, and Harvard Health Publishing.
3. Get your information from a qualified nutrition expert. This is someone who has studied the science of nutrition and has earned at least a Bachelor’s Degree in the field. Look for credentials after the author’s name, such as RDN, registered dietitian nutritionist. There are other qualified nutrition professionals, and that information should be listed in the author’s biography.
4. Consider the source. Scientifically-based information should be referenced with cited sources. If the information is questionable, ask a nutrition expert. We often received such inquiries in the hospital setting. Don’t be hesitant to ask; people like to help.
Until next time, be healthy!
1. Nutrition News: How Do We Know What to Believe? (Feb. 2019). Retrieved from https://www.nutritionletter.tufts.edu/issues/15_2/special-reports/Nutrition-News-How-Do-We-Know-What-to-Believe_2527-1.html
2. Bellows, L. and Moore, R. (Sept. 2013). Nutrition Misinformation: How to Identify Fraud and Misleading Claims – 9.350. Retrieved from https://extension.colostate.edu/topic-areas/nutrition-food-safety-health/nutrition-misinformation-how-to-identify-fraud-and-misleading-claims-9-350/
Leanne McCrate is an award-winning dietitian based in Missouri. Her mission is to educate the public on sound, evidence-based nutrition. Do you have a nutrition question? Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.