Deciphering Nutrition and Fitness Advice: Who Can You Trust?

author:  Kelly Gill, MS, RD, CSSD, LD

 

I was asked this exact question and have had versions of this question from many people through the recent years.  Perhaps you’ve had the same question:

 

‘With so much information out there, how can I know who I can trust?’

 

With the internet, information is at our fingertips.  Do an internet search for “diet” and over 600 million links pull up!!!  With all this information, how can you distinguish a fact from fiction?  …and perhaps more prevalent, distorted or misinterpreted facts!

 

 

There’s an expression that originated in the early 1700’s.  While there is a lot of different versions, it basically goes like this:

 ‘A lie will go round the world while truth is pulling its boots on.’

Now that we are in the information age, it has never been more true!

 

Most people delivering messages are not trying to lie or deceive people.  But, I have seen some questionable processes of fact checking, data collection, and interpretation.

 

The fact is the diet industry is a billion dollar industry (estimated at around $20 billion!), so there are a lot of biases out there.

 

Here are my 3 tips for how to tell who you can trust:

 

  1. The first thing I consider is their qualifications.  What is their level of education?  Degrees?  Experience?  For example, anyone can stick a sign on their door and call themselves a nutritionist.  But, if they call themselves a dietitian, that is a whole other level of education!  A dietitian has to have a bachelor’s degree from an approved didactic program, they have to complete a qualified dietetic internship program, and pass a national exam.  To maintain registration, they have to complete 75 hours of continuing education every 5 years and pay a fee.  Beyond that, many dietitians have a master’s degree, a license to practice in their state (which often have different continuing education requirements and expenses) and specialized certificates that often reflect more expenses, more exams, and more continuing education hours.  It’s not easy!
  2. The second consideration goes hand in hand with the first consideration.  You see, when someone has a degree and a lot of experience, they rarely use a “one size fits all” approach to nutrition.  A reliable source will review data and use sound research.  The experts who commit themselves to reading sound research are usually not married to any one idea.  They have learned that they have to be open minded – they’ve learned that there’s a lot we just don’t know!  The findings from nutrition research are never absolute or black and white!  There is a lot of grey area in nutrition research for many reasons; mainly because it can’t be completely controlled.  In other words, there are always variables that can affect results.  As a result, sound information is constantly evolving, as we discover new things.  Because we can’t control research I’ve noticed over my 18 years in the field, that the findings are usually in the direction of balance, variety, and moderation.  When the information available is all or none and is not open to alternative solutions, then it’s probably not a good, reliable source.
  3. The third consideration is what drives them?  Watch out for anyone who is strictly motivated by (1) entertainment or (2) money.  Often, there is a money trail linking experts to promoting certain advice or products.  While I realize you can have integrity and make good money, the fact is that money can skew a person’s perception.  So, as a consumer, you just have to be on guard!  Choose to be wise in your assessments.  For example, My mom was reading a diet book by someone who insisted his readers also take his specific brand of supplements.  The information in the book may have been based on sound research, but he lost me when his advice was directly linked to his supplement sales.  Also, you may not think about the need to provide entertainment, but it can really affect a person’s perspective.  It often leads to sensationalism and/or outrageous claims, which are rarely based on sound evidence.  For example, Dr. Oz seems to be really motivated by sensational and outrageous claims – and I don’t doubt there’s a money trail linking many products to him.  I’ve done my own research on a few of the many claims Dr. Oz has made (coconut oil and garcinia cambogia are two products he’s endorsed, which I’ve heavily researched and found his claims completely unsubstantiated!), and he does not always use sound research (I won’t say that he never uses sound research, I just haven’t seen it).

 

These three tips are intended to provide a filter with which you can decipher bad information from good information.  Ultimately, you have to use your gut to decide.  Also, you can always contact me if you’re ever completely stumped.  I’m always happy to help!

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