Do It Naturally: Getting to the Truth About Nutrition

Seems like every day we are bombarded with conflicting nutrition advice. Drink milk; no, stay away from dairy. Eat red meat; no, become a vegan. Take supplements; no, get your vitamins from food. It’s enough to make you throw up your hands, shake your head and just give up trying to be healthy.

Although it’s exciting and dynamic that nutrition is an ever evolving science, too much information and particularly inaccurate information can do more harm than good. When misleading and “click-baitable” articles appear en masse, it’s time to take a step back to sort fact from fiction.

I sat down with four very savvy registered dietitians who spoke the plain truth on how the public can read between the lines of any nutrition study. Whether reading the study itself or as reported by a newspaper, magazine or website, there are four factors to look for that will significantly cut down on the hype and confusion.

Who Funded the Study

According to Lisa Stollman, MA, RD, CDE, CDN, CEO of NY-based Lisa Stollman Nutrition and The Trim Traveler, says for any study, whether you are reading the actual document or it’s being referred to in an article, you must know who funded the study.

“Before you even begin reading a study, look at who is funding the study as well as where the researcher(s) is/are employed and any corporate ties they may have. The research results may be biased based on these findings alone. If you are unsure if the conclusion is biased and want to read the study, go through the methodology. This will give you a clearer picture if the study is sound,”says Stollman.

Many times when you read about a study that’s just being referred to in an article, there will be no indication of who funded the study. But curiosity should get the better of you, so do more research before you go ahead and change your dietary habits.

Sample Size

Photo courtesy of Wiknic

Photo courtesy of Wiknic

A study needs enough participants to make a nutrition claim legitimate. Although a conclusion from a study may seem impressive, find out just how many people were actually involved. “For many types of research, especially those involving lab animals, smaller sample sizes are common. The data obtained from these smaller studies is still valuable, it just doesn’t provide much beyond the BIG picture”, says Danielle Omar, MS, RD, owner of Food Confidence in Oakton,Virginia. “In order to account for smaller differences or effects in groups, a larger sample size is needed. It is generally accepted that a sample size larger than 30 and less than 500 is appropriate for most research.”

Watch For Certain Phrases

You’ve must have seen the profuse amount of web articles that say “Never eat these 5 foods”. In order to sensationalize nutrition articles so people will read them, certain buzz words are usually employed to draw readers in. Be very wary of the way words are phrased.

Rachel Hartley, RD, LD, CDE, a private practice dietitian, writer and speaker knows a thing or two about the way articles lure unsuspecting readers.

“Few things in nutrition are absolute. When an article contains phrases like “never eat,” “you must,” or “everyone should,” I quickly click delete. Real science recognizes nuances and what’s still unknown”, says Hartley.

Choose Reliable Sources of Nutrition Information

It’s best to leave nutrition information to the experts. Go ahead and read your fashion magazines, but I wouldn’t necessarily rely on any nutrition information printed in there. Nutrition communications dietitian Jessica Fishman Levinson, RD, RDN, CDN, founder of Nutritioulicious, believes there are some really good sources of science- based sources you can rely on.

“In general I recommend consumers stick to government websites for reliable health information. When it comes to general nutrition, I send people to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics website, eatright.orgChooseMyPlate.gov, and the USDA site with the Dietary Guidelines.”, says Levinson.

One thing everyone seems to agree on is to stay hydrated!

One thing everyone seems to agree on besides healthy eating  – stay hydrated! photo courtesy of eatright.com click for more info from them

She goes on to explain, “The problem arises with the popularity of fad diets or when a new study is released and the media puts out sensational headlines that are often misleading. I definitely don’t recommend getting nutrition information from your local news station website and I am always wary of “news” I see promoted on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter – you never know the agenda of the person posting the information.”

Levinson believes it’s best to look at the study itself or reliable sites like FoodInsight.org or blogs of registered dietitians who often break down a study into more consumer-friendly language and bottom lines. She says RDs are the experts in food and nutrition and are educated in interpreting and reporting on evidence-based science and they are the most knowledgeable in dietary guidance.

So don’t give up on your health just yet. Armed with these tools, you’ll be able to go forward to make wise decisions about your personal wellness while leaving all the half-truths and false proclamations behind.

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