6 Tips to Help You Identify Nutrition Misinformation
The nutrition world is full of misinformation leading to confusion and poor dietary choices.
If you’re scrolling through the internet, social media, even magazines, chances are you will come across endless information about nutrition and health. If you’re looking for something specific, odds are you will find many different answers from one simple search. With some posts saying “do this”, and others saying “do that”, it can be pretty overwhelming and confusing. Luckily, there are some strategies that can help you sift through the nutrition misinformation and find the answer you’re looking for.
In this post, we will look at 6 tips that can help you dodge the misinformation and get the evidence-based answers you need.
1. Check the author’s credentials
The author’s credentials can say a lot about the credibility of the information. Nutrition experts are those who have gone through all the necessary education and practical experience. In Canada, some titles are protected for these experts which vary by province. “Dietitian” is protected all over Canada, while “nutritionist” is a protected title in Alberta, Nova Scotia, and Quebec. For a full list of protected titles by province, click here.
If the author does not have any credentials, or labels themselves as a “health coach” or “nutrition expert”, be aware that the information may not be evidence-based. On that note, if the author’s name is not easily located (i.e. not stated at the beginning of the post) or there is no author listed at all, this is also a sign of nutrition misinformation as experts would always put their name on their work.
2. Claims that seem too good to be true
If it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is. If what you are reading is promising fast weight loss, supplements that will make drastic changes to your body, or anything that makes you want to try it right away for its “quick effects”, this is a tell-tale sign of nutrition misinformation. Here are some things to look out for:
- Promoting foods that promise a drastic weight loss. Achievement of your personal best weight is more complicated than simply thinking about calories in versus calories out. Read this article on our blog to understand all the factors that influence your weight: Dietitian Answers to Your Top Weight Loss Questions
- Promoting immediate special effects of certain foods (e.g. eat this and you will increase your muscle tone rapidly). Your overall diet over time is more important than focusing on one single nutrient or one single food.
- Anything with the word “detox”. Your liver is responsible for detoxifying your body, so any foods or juices that are claimed to have detoxifying properties are likely untrue.
- Claims about certain foods causing immediate health concerns. Consuming certain foods can indeed cause certain health issues such as cardiovascular disease, but these foods take a very long time to become problematic. The only foods that you should avoid due to their immediate negative effects are those that you are personally allergic to or intolerant to.
3. Lack of credible sources
One of the best ways to identify nutrition misinformation is the lack of credible sources or any sources at all. Professionals will always cite their work with other credible articles, so the lack thereof is a red flag. If there are sources cited, it is always a good idea to check them to ensure they are also credible. Some credible databases to receive evidence-based information are:
If the article doesn’t use sources from reliable databases, it doesn’t always mean that they are non-credible. Checking the source for other signs of misinformation using these tips can help you catch them.
On the same token, not only are the cited sources important but the source that has posted the information is equally as critical. If the website you are on has many ads, promotions, typos, or anything relatively unprofessional, it has likely not been reviewed. These websites will sometimes be trying to simply sell something to make a personal gain, not spreading correct information.
4. Labelling Foods as “Good” or “Bad”
There are no “good” or “bad” foods, as every food has a place. In fact, following a balanced diet that contains both the “good” and the so-called “bad” foods is the best for overall health, social fun, taste and enjoyment. The only “bad” foods that you should avoid are foods that you are allergic to, foods that have gone bad, and foods that you don’t enjoy.
Here are some red flags to look out for:
- Telling you to cut out a specific food because it is harmful
- Pushing a specific food because it has benefits that seem too good to be true
- Suggesting exercise to counteract junk food or sweets (you should never have to exercise just to eat something you enjoy)
5. Pushing the use of supplements or natural foods
Unless instructed to do so by your doctor or registered dietitian, supplements are usually not necessary in individuals who are eating a balanced diet because your body is likely obtaining everything it needs from the food you consume. Therefore, articles promoting supplements without any evidence behind their benefits or target populations may only be motivated by personal gain and not optimizing health. If you wish to supplement with a vitamin or mineral, consult with your doctor and dietitian before doing so to ensure it is the right decision for you.
Natural or organic foods are often mistaken as “healthier” when in reality they may offer similar health benefits yet may have added expense. Research shows that some foods grown organically have more vitamins and minerals, while others are actually the same have even less. The nutritional content of all food (regardless if it is grown organically or conventionally) depends on soil quality, growing conditions, harvesting methods, length of time before the food is consumed and the diet of the animal itself.
Again there is variability due to many factors but overall research shows organic foods may have lower levels of some pesticides and hormones than conventionally grown foods. Despite this, remember that in Canada we have access to some of the safest and most stringently monitored food on the planet.
For a detailed review on organic versus conventionally grown foods, check out this article on our blog: Are Organic Foods Healthier?
6. The use of confusing medical jargon
Dietitians are professionals at delivering nutrition information to the general public. They educate those who may not be as knowledgeable in the subject, so they will not use big words in an article that is designed for the public. If an article is using big medical jargon without definitions and has been posted on a regular website (i.e. not a scientific database), there is a good chance that those words are not there by mistake. Confusing medical terms are typically masking nutrition misinformation, but the reader may mistake this for credible information.
Nutrition is one of the most misinformed topics out there. Using these tips can help you find what you’re looking for and avoid the information that may not be as factual. Ultimately, understanding how to properly sift through this information can help you deduce the right from the wrong and make the right choices for you.
Are you still not sure what to believe online?
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