Sorting Through the Nutrition Misinformation

There’s certainly no shortage of nutrition information available to us, but how do you know what to believe? As dietitians, we answer questions about this all the time – there’s so much conflicting information out there it’s not surprising many people are confused about what to eat!

Here are five tips to help you sort the evidence-based information from the misinformation.

Is the person, product or article:

1. Promising a quick fix like fast weight-loss or a miracle cure?
If it sounds ‘too good to be true’, then it likely is. Making changes means a commitment to eating well and exercising regularly.

2. Trying to sell you products such as special foods or supplements instead of teaching you how to make better food choices at home, at play, at work or while eating out?

3. Providing information based on personal stories rather than on facts?
It may be nice to hear about a success story from a celebrity, but it’s not proof that something works or is true. Nutrition advice should be based on the best available scientific research. Different research designs tell us different information. Interpretation of research requires a basic understanding of research and study design. Review these key research terms:

  • Blind experiment—in this type of experiment, the study subjects don’t know which treatment they are getting. This avoids the “placebo effect” where subjects expect the treatment to work so it does.
  • Experimental group—the group who gets the treatment being studied.
  • Control group—the control group is treated the same way as the experimental group but they do not receive the treatment being tested. This is an important part of a study because it means any effect observed in the experiment group is a result of the treatment.
  • Placebo— a placebo mimics the treatment and is used to test the psychological effect of being given the treatment. It could be a diet, a drink or even a sham treatment.
  • For more research definitions, click here.

4. Making a claim based on a single study or a few research studies?
Were the studies with animals or humans? Are you similar to the humans that were studied (age, sex etc.)? The stronger the study design, and the more studies available that draw the same conclusions, the stronger the evidence that something is true.

5. Qualified? You wouldn’t ask a celebrity how to build a bridge, you’d ask a professional engineer. The same thinking should apply for nutrition advice. Dig a little deeper and ask for credentials.

This article was originally posted in PEN eNews, a bimonthly e-newsletter shared with the global PEN Community and created to help dietitians, the leaders in evidence-based nutrition practice, to stay abreast of the latest science in food and nutrition. It is reprinted here with permission from Dietitians of Canada.

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