Did you know that the Eiffel Tower was sold by a conman…twice? His buyers surely thought that whatever Victor Lustig, posing as an official from the French government, told them must have been reliable information.
In school, many of us have been taught how to find relevant and reliable sources in order to make an informed opinion and support our position. With the prevalence of information on the Internet, this skill is considered essential in the academic world.
Despite learning how to evaluate a source for credibility, a lot of nutrition information is adopted from social media platforms, Youtube, personal blogs or forums with minimal, if any, questioning of its reliability. The Internet has given a platform to both qualified professionals eager to educate the general public with accessible information, and people who make money off of misinformation.
The range of content’s quality is vast. Why should you, as an individual, care about the source of your nutrition information?
Your Health is Important
Your health is yours alone and only you can manage it. There is nothing wrong with a little experimenting in your diet and trying new things, but you owe it to yourself to really assess what impact this experimentation will have on your nutrition and overall health. Nutrition “advice” can lead to “looking healthy” without actually being healthy.
Restricting calories while maintaining a balanced diet for instance, can have positive effects on health and weight loss. However, if some advice on the Internet tells you to replace all of your meals with green tea for two weeks, you’re jeopardizing your health for a short period of “looking healthy” without genuinely being healthy.
Working with a registered dietitian can help you achieve the healthy, sustainable changes you want to make to your diet much more effectively than scouring the Internet for questionable advice.
Nutrition “Experts” Aren’t Always Real Experts
The term “nutritionist” can belong to someone who has a master’s degree in the field of nutrition with 8 years of experience or it could belong to a newly graduated high schooler who wakes up one morning and decides they want to start giving nutrition advice online.
Because anyone can claim to be a nutritionist, there is a lot of room for misinformation under the title. Poorly researched nutrition advice may not be given maliciously; however, it makes it harder for the average person to decipher what is quality advice. The credibility of information ultimately comes down to the author—their background, their purpose for sharing content, and the sources they used (if any). As a consumer of this information, it is in your interest to check these out.
Academic papers are the easiest to assess for credibility, but when you have semi-formal information from websites, blogs and social media, how do you know what to look for?
Author: who are they and what is their field? What credentials do they have? How much experience in this field do they have?
I’d like to highlight that just because someone is a doctor, doesn’t mean they specialize in nutrition. Nutrition is a subsection of health just as cardiology is.
Source: Where is this information published and is that source credible for nutrition or health information?
A reputable finance journal can be a great source of information….for finance. Why would you get your nutrition information from a source that doesn’t focus on nutrition?
Evidence: Is evidence being used? Buyer beware of an article or post claiming that “doing X will lead to Y” with no cited evidence.
If there is evidence, is it well-researched evidence, from reputable sources?
Published Date: Is the information you’re reading current? Research never sleeps, so reading more current information will generally be more reliable than a study from 20 years ago.
There is Profit from Your Confusion and You Aren’t the One Benefiting
If there is demand, there is a market. And if there isn’t demand, it can be created. Just think of Goop’s Jade Eggs.
Health has become a big industry and at the end of the day, an industry is filled with companies and people that want to make money. These businesses could very well be legitimate and promote sound nutrition practices (think of all the gyms, nutrition clinics and farmer’s markets out there), but health and nutrition has still become an industry. The more confused people are about what is “nutritious” and what isn’t, the more room there is for practices, products and services that may or may not benefit your health. And you’re the one paying, literally and figuratively.
A positive trend emerging from all of this confusion is that there are more legitimate nutrition professionals, like registered dietitians, becoming active online to help clarify nutrition-related information.
Caring about your health includes caring about where you get your nutrition and dietary information from. Doing your own research and evaluating a source for credibility does require a bit of effort upfront, but it is a small time investment compared to the time it takes to undo years of poor nutrition. As unfortunate as it is, the confusion you experience around nutrition and general health creates a market for businesses that don’t have your best interest at heart, and the burden of determining what is “sound” nutrition information falls to you, the consumer.