It’s nearly impossible to scroll through your Facebook newsfeed or Instagram feed without encountering someone posting something about nutrition. It’s great that people are caring about what they eat these days…but sometimes it can do more harm than good. This brings me to the theme of this week’s WTF Wednesday: Since when did everyone become a nutrition expert?
Don’t get me wrong, it’s wonderful to form your own opinions about health issues and nutrition topics. To each their own. The pitfall is when these opinions are not grounded in science and are marketed to the mass public to seem like the truth.
We need to be wise consumers. We need to think critically. The age-old saying holds true, especially when it comes to nutrition:
“If something sounds too good to be true, then it probably is.”
So what to do when people are posting about juice cleanses “detoxifying” their body or about some miracle ingredient that promises everlasting health?
- Hold your horses: Read the article, listen to the news story, read the Facebook post. Then do it again. Most nutrition stories are posted in a sensational way to deliberately hook you in. Break this appeal by re-reading the article multiple times. Now we can start dissecting the claims.
- Science the sh*t out of it! Probably the best line from “The Martian” movie and it certainly applies here. Does the article reference an original research study? If so, go to the actual study and read it. If not, Google search the nutrition topic to find the original research or search in a scientific database, like PubMed. Many journals are open access, which means you don’t need a subscription to read the articles. If you’re a student, most universities provide students with access to almost all journals and the librarians are great at helping you locate an article if you can’t find it.
- Think critically: Read the original research paper. Investigate the journal it was published in. Was the journal peer-reviewed? “Peer-reviewed” means the research paper was sent to multiple experts in the field to review and provide comments/feedback. This process decides if the paper is credible, adds to the scientific literature, and should be published. It’s a rigorous process that is lengthy and can make even the toughest scientist shed a tear. But, it makes the paper better and means the paper has been thoroughly reviewed before it’s published. If the research was published in a journal that was not peer-reviewed, then it’s not held to the same high, rigorous research standards and you need to take the conclusions with a grain of salt.
- Consult the expert: Does the source of the original post have a Masters/PhD in Nutrition from a reputable university and/or is a Registered Dietitian (RD)/Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN)? The Masters/PhDs degrees mean the person has been through research training, so this person can provide feedback on the quality of the research design and interpret what the study concludes. The RD/RDN credential means the person has completed a dietetic internship approved by the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, passed the Registration Examination for Dietitians, and renews this license annually. RDs/RDNs are able to provide nutrition advice and diet plans, so they are the people you want to consult with when trying to tune up your diet or have questions about a new diet trend.
The nutrition field is constantly growing and changing. New findings are released every day and the technology boom has given more people access to this information. It’s up to us to sort through what’s out there and make informed decisions.
Find credible sources. Reach out to faculty and researchers. The professor I work under creates Fact Sheets about many different topics in nutrition here.
We’re here to help bridge the gap between the lab bench and the community and we want to do this together.
What’s the latest nutrition news story you heard? What did you think of it?