Question: Where’s your go-to place for information on nutrition and food? How do you know that the nutrition information you’re reading is true, good or accurate?
From the internet, to TV, instagram, and even family and friends, we can get nutrition information from basically anywhere.
Lets face it, we have all turned to Google for a quick nutrition search. Its fast, easy, and we know there will be an endless amount of results on practically any topic we search. However, the convenience of the internet comes at a cost; these days, anybody can make a website, write an article, and call themselves a nutrition expert.
As social creatures, we tend to seek out anecdotal evidence for issues that we experience, instead of research-based evidence. But Why?
Think of it this way: would you rather hear your best friend’s story on their experience with the keto diet, or read multiple 10-page research articles on the topic?
This human connection is often much more valuable to us than any cold, methodical, science-y literature could ever be. Watch this TED Talk if you’re interested in learning more.
In this era of information overload, food and nutrition is so often being discovered through sources like the internet and social media. Endless facts, non-facts, opinions, and marketing schemes are all jumbled into one list when you search for a topic. This inevitably leads to contradictory nutrition advice, often making users even more confused than they were before they started. Unfortunately, this makes the nutrition landscape online quite overwhelming and often stressful.
How do we know who to trust?
I’ve put together my top 4 things to look for when reading nutrition information online:
1. Check Those Credentials
Before even starting to read, scroll to the bottom of the article and find who wrote it. Are they a registered dietitian, food journalist, or a foodie enthusiast? I’ve certainly seen some writing pros get solid references (more about this below in #4), but I always recommend to go to the main source just to watch for personal bias.
Dietitian vs. Nutritionist? Dietitians are the only nutrition-experts who can practice medical based nutrition therapy.
Technically speaking, anyone (in BC) can legally call themselves a “nutritionist” or “nutrition expert” or “certified nutrition specialist” (the list goes on…), so these titles don’t guarantee any education or training. Even nutrition information given by physicians may not be up to par, as med school includes very limited education on nutrition. When in doubt, add “dietitian” or “RD” to the end of your google search.
2. Is it Asking for $$$?
Do you have to purchase a book, product, or membership to access the information? This may be a red flag.
The “health and wellness” market has become a hugely profitable opportunity for those looking to make money. Often, profit is preceeded with a promise that has unrealistic or magical results attached. This is the sad reality of the nutrition and wellness landscape right now and makes it even more important to be a nutrition-savvy reader.
3. Do you see Words like “Cure” or “Guarantee”?
If there were cures to currently incurable diseases, or a way to guarantee weight loss, you would probably know about them by now, and it surely wouldn’t be coming from a random blog on the internet.
Overall, if it seems too good to be true, it probably is…
4. Are the Claims Backed Up?
Here’s the kicker. Just because an article has references to scientific studies, doesn’t mean these studies are necessarily reliable. Even low-quality studies can still be published, and even if they are high-quality, the media tends to only mention the “shocking” parts of the study that support their stance.
No one study can “prove” anything, quite literally. So take study results with a grain of salt.
Another good thing to check is whether the study is biased, or funded by an organization that would have a motive on the topic.
If you are a real keen research-buster detective and want to actually click the links to the studies, here are some specifics to look at:
- Abstract and Results: Good sections to skim and get the jist of the study.
- Year: The more recent, the more relevant. Last 5 years = relatively “new”
- Study size: The bigger the number, the more reliable.
- Subjects: Human studies > animal studies
- Methods: What did the study actually measure?
Here are some fool-proof, websites to use for evidence-based nutrition information:
- Unlock Food – Easy food tips
- Cookspiration – Inspiring recipes and meal ideas
- HealthLinkBC – Information on health & nutrition topics
- Dietitians of Canada – Medical nutrition therapy, food guide, find-a-dietitian search tool
And some registered dietitians who practice evidence-based nutrition:
- Abbey Sharp – Variety of topics and recipes
- Abby Langer – Diet myths & debunking
- Desiree Nielsen – Gut health, anti-inflammatory, and plant-based nutrition
- Christy Harrison – Intuitive eating & Health At Every Size
Keep these tips in mind, but use your own judgement on whether you think the information you are reading is legit. Use a variety of sources: ask your mom about that juice cleanse she did, but also look up a dietitians thoughts on the matter, maybe even read a study or two! Then, and only then, form your own opinion.
Reading with a critical eye will help to make the oversaturation and overload of nutrition information a little less overwhelming, and bring you closer to that healthy relationship with foods where eating is enjoyable, not stressful.
When all else fails, trust your gut (no pun intended)!
Tl,dr; If you do end up using “Dr.Google”, make sure to type in “registered dietitian” with your google search. This will filter the results to come up with mostly articles written by registered dietitians. Or call 8-1-1 to speak to a dietitian directly, free of charge.