Identifying Nutrition Myths

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Written by Heather Gerrish, RDN

How to spot a tagline from the truth.

The world of nutrition can be a VERY confusing place. With constant information and claims presented on a daily basis reviewing the next big thing in diet culture or the never-ending lists of “eat this, not that”, how can you decipher this information and get the information you need?

We will break it down with 3 terms:

Science - Is the claim or article backed by actual research? Or is this claim an opinion or “fact” from one person or organization?

References - How reputable is the source making the claim, do they have the proper training and expertise to determine such conclusions?

Facts - Does the information make sense? If not, what is making you second guess this information? Why?

Using this brief, but effective method in quickly determining if the nutrition claim you are reading is fact or fiction puts the power back in your hands to make educated and informed decisions before acting on and implementing the newest health craze.

Let’s put this plan into action (in a hypothetical way).

*This is a completely and totally made up story and if it should be found as similar to any story you have seen now or in the future, it is not meant to demean or negate any claims made by those articles. This is just to prove the importance of critical thinking and using your own judgment to determine facts from fiction.

Let’s get started: You are scrolling through Instagram and notice that a lot of influencers are promoting eating exclusively eggs as a protein source. No chicken, no beans, no tofu, no bacon. Nothing other than eggs as protein for all meals and snacks. Total protein gathered from other sources (fruits, vegetables, other dishes) cannot exceed 2 grams in total for the day.

Now, from the looks of things the influencer seems adamant that by doing this “diet” they were able to melt body fat and lose 15 pounds in 1 week.

What are your immediate thoughts following this information?

Review the 3:

Science: Where there clinical trials run on this new diet modification? How many participants did they study? Was it just the influencer? What company is supporting this ad? Do they have any conflicts of interest that should be noted? Any financial incentives?

References: what references were shared? Or was there any information to back these claims up? Are they valid?

Facts: Does this sound reasonable? Is this diet even feasible? Is it sustainable?

How does this post add up? What are your thoughts?

Because this is a fake post and otherwise would not exist on your Instagram or Facebook news-feed, we know it’s fake, but taking a closer look regardless of the origin of the claim or who the claim is coming from is vital in ensuring that you are being an educated consumer and using your right to know information essential to determining your own interpretation of the claim that was shared.  

It is also important to validate and compare the information and facts you receive from individuals as well. Asking how that individual found the information they are sharing, or by what degree are they trained and eligible to share information on a certain topic (you wouldn’t want a pre-med student performing open heart surgery on their first day) is completely valid. It’s important to think critically on the information you see online, in print and by word of mouth before you implement it into your practice and be an educated consumer. This way you are protecting yourself and your health from claims that are not research backed or that are not validated by credible sources.

An excellent way to research facts and information on your own is to go right to the source and read articles and research journals that specialize in the area you are searching. A great source for information for researching articles and journals for relevant research is PubMed and if you are unable to access an article directly, email the author! From experience they are more likely to provide you with the free version of their work to better provide and share their findings than turn you away. It’s always worth emailing your questions and receiving feedback from the actual investigators than limiting your search to only open access databases that might not provide the most comprehensive lists of available articles for your topic.

An additional source for credible nutrition facts and information is from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics where you can find almost anything related to nutrition, even a practicing Dietitian in your area! The Academy is an organization that provides support and information to Dietitians to use (and they even have ongoing research projects you can look into). It’s a great site to look around and find out more about up and coming nutrition topics as well as new claims and where to find out more about hot topics in nutrition found in the media.

It takes a little work, but in the end researching and ensuring that the information that you see on a daily basis is fact vs. fiction is well worth the extra search. You might even find something that sparks your interest along the way!

Heather Gerrish