Where do you get your nutrition information, and do you read it with a critical eye? Twenty years ago, most people found it in magazines or newspapers, asked their doctor or dietitian, or took advice from mom, grandma, or the friend down the street. Even then it seemed you could find an opinion anywhere.
The advent of the World Wide Web only magnified the amount of nutrition information and advice available to the public. Some of it is valid and very useful, but much of it is inaccurate, misguided, or conflicting. Why does it matter? And how do you know what is reliable and what is not?
Why does it matter?
Following the wrong nutrition advice can lead to inadequacies in the diet, misunderstandings of how to follow medically necessary diets, or encourage poor eating behaviors and attitudes. It can lead people to take a short-term vision to their diet instead of a life-long healthy lifestyle that enables them to live and enjoy the life they have been given.
How do you know what diet advice is reliable and what is not?
Ask yourself these questions when you read about the latest and greatest nutrition finding to come across your screen:
- Who is giving the advice? Look at where they received their education and training, or if they even have any background in nutrition. Be aware that the scope and caliber of nutrition education varies widely, and people may call themselves a nutritionist without having credible training in the field. Look for an RD or RDN – Registered Dietitian or Registered Dietitian Nutritionist. They are specially trained in the field of nutrition to help people achieve a healthy diet.
What advice are they giving? Diets tend to be trendy and don’t promote lifelong healthy changes. I’ve seen plenty come and go in my years of practice. Here are a couple hints:
- Stay away from diet advice that eliminates entire food groups (unless you are on a prescribed diet requiring that). Leaving out a whole food group means your diet may lack or be low in certain essential nutrients.
- Don’t try a diet just because it worked for someone else. Diets are not a one size fits all entity. Remember, you have a different genetic makeup, different likes and dislikes, a different knowledge base in food and nutrition, and a different home environment. Nutrition advice should be personalized and not relegated to a list of 5 or 10 or 20 foods to never eat. It just does not work that way if you want long-term results.
Where did you read it? You have read the article or blog post and looked at the author’s credentials. Now look at where they got their information and think about these things:
- Diet advice based on testimonials and word-of-mouth are clues that it may not be the best source of information. Look for recommendations based on solid science and research. If the author does not list their references, contact them and ask for it. Nutrition professionals who are truly interested in helping people live healthy lives should have no problem backing up their recommendations.
- Look for respectable magazines and websites or reliable health professionals. Stay away from periodicals and sites that sensationalize diet advice or use scare tactics to convince you to follow their methods.
- Food industry sites can be a wonderful resource when it comes to food, and even diet, but read these carefully as they can also be biased toward the products they are selling or promoting.
- When was it written? Nutrition is a young science. It is constantly changing as new research is done and more is discovered about food and the nutrition needs of our bodies. It can be hard to keep up with. If the source you are reading is old, does more recent research back it up, or has it clearly been shown to be inaccurate? On the other hand, if it was written yesterday and claims to debunk a currently well-known recommendation wait to see what comes of it before jumping on board and changing your current diet. Even better – dig a little deeper and read the research for yourself.
- Why is the author handing out this advice? This is harder to know, but there are clues you can look for. Are they trying to sell you something, like supplements or “miracle” drugs? If so, they may not have your best interest at heart. The diet and food industry is a billion dollar business. If their supplement or drug really worked to help people lose weight or cure whatever ails them, wouldn’t it be all over the news? Think about it and remember that facts can be misrepresented or misconstrued and worded to favor the author’s opinion.
Read nutrition advice with a critical eye, asking yourself lots of questions and digging a little deeper before changing your diet.