Today I want to talk about a very important issue in the nutrition industry; information validity. There is a massive amount of straight-up wrong nutrition information out there, which makes it important to ensure you are getting your information from credible sources! Not every article you read is going to be credible, in fact, the entire article could be completely inaccurate. The problem is that people don’t check to ensure the information is true before they start telling other people about it. Every single one of us has a responsibility to ensure our information is correct (or at least, has the potential to be correct) before we start sharing it with others!
Here are 4 ways we can avoid spreading false information.
1. Know Your Sources
There are different types of literature that have varying degrees of credibility. The most credible sources are known as ‘primary literature’ and are original, published scientific research. Please keep in mind that if you are going to reference primary literature, you need to make sure you know how to read it properly first. These articles often use scientific jargon which is not always easy to follow. If you are interested in learning more, this guide explains how to read a scientific paper. If you are searching for scientific studies on a certain topic, Google Scholar is a great search engine for primary and secondary literature. Secondary literature is based off primary literature such as a summaries or reviews, and is also a credible source of information.
If you reference other articles, make sure you check their references to see if they are credible. If the article has no references, this should be a red flag that the information is not reliable!
Here is a list of other unreliable sources:
- YouTube videos. Some YouTube videos are very informational and provide references in the descriptions, but many don’t. Because it is a video, it is easier to get away without using references. Youtube is exceptionally abundant in unreliable health information.
- Informational pictures used on image boards such as Pinterest or Tumblr. Because they are pictures, it is easier to overlook the lack of references.
- Documentaries. Anyone can make a documentary. In my experience, documentaries tend to use scare tactics instead of credible scientific research to get their point across.
- Books. Anyone can write a book! Always ensure the author references their facts properly!
- Newspaper. Newspapers are a notoriously bad source of nutritional information. The journalists writing the article generally knows nothing about nutrition or scientific research, which leads them to draw incorrect conclusions on what the research study is actually saying.
Without references and/or research, the facts stated are meaningless!
The articles I reference the most on this website are from sites with authors that have a scientific based education and reference credible sources!
Some of these include:
2. Don’t believe Everything you Hear (or read)
You may start believing a statement as true if you hear it repeated enough times. This is known as the illusion-of-truth effect. There are many instances of this happening in nutrition. For example, the myth that fat is bad for you. Some flawed studies were done on fats which pointed towards fats being harmful and this gave rise to the low-fat craze of the 90’s (source). However, we now know low fat diets are actually harmful to your health and it is not all fat, but only certain types (such as refined vegetables oils and trans fat), that are bad for your health (source). Nonetheless, many people still recite how “you don’t want too much fat in your diet” or “fat gives you heart disease”. So next time you hear someone make a similar statement, don’t just take their word for it; research it yourself (and make sure the sources you read are credible!). Many people who recite nutrition facts in this way have gotten their information from YouTube videos, news papers, or other unreliable sources in the first place.
It is also important to note that not every scientific study is credible. Studies can have flaws in their design which makes them yield incorrect results (or the results are interpreted in the wrong way). For example, studies on very small control groups (5 test subjects) can easily yield a false positive or negative. Read here on how a journalist tricked millions into thinking chocolate helps with weight loss by exploiting a false positive, which exposed how flimsy some nutritional research really is. Another example of a flawed study includes this study done in 1995 that suggested that natural vitamin A is toxic. The flaw: the study was done using synthetic vitamin A which does not even have the same chemical structure. While it is safe to say that synthetic vitamin A should be avoided, this study has no grounds to suggest that vitamin A, from its natural source, is toxic.
photo from quoteswave
3. Credentials Don’t Mean Everything
I generally prefer to reference articles that are written by people with scientific backgrounds, but that doesn’t mean they know everything. I prefer these people because they are more likely to reference credible sources and double check their information before sharing. However, they are still people, and they can still make mistakes. Just because someone has a Ph.D in Biology doesn’t mean everything they write is flawless. Some people will try to make themselves out to know everything, but they don’t! This often becomes a problem when medical doctors (MDs) give out nutritional advice. Medical doctors are only required to take a very minimal amount of nutrition in their 8 years of school (source), making their nutritional advice unreliable and lacking. They still recommend completely outdated nutritional advice such as low fat and low cholesterol diets, high grain consumption, and they encourage people to stay on vegan diets even if the diet is obviously not working well for them.
You don’t have to believe someone just because they are an authority figure. It is important that you always do your own research, and get a second opinion if necessary.
4. Don’t Treat Nutrition like a Religion
Treating nutrition as a religion means believing there is only one way to be healthy. This is the wrong way to view nutrition as there are actually many different types of healthy diets that work for different people. Don’t pretend you know someone else’s body better than they do. If you suggest somebody to try a diet and it doesn’t work for them, then it doesn’t work for them.
People will often suggest that the reason you are failing to thrive on a diet is because you are “detoxing” or “not trying hard enough”, but the truth is that it just might not be the right diet for you. While there are times when you may actually be detoxing, this generally only lasts a few days.
Treating nutrition like a religion completely disregards scientific evidence and is instead based on power struggles and personal beliefs that don’t have other peoples best interests at heart. It is a major way that false information about nutrition is spread, avoid this at all costs!
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Do you have any suggestions or stories about false information and/or how to avoid it?
Please share with me below!