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How to Distinguish What’s Credible Nutrition Science

If you feel lost when it comes to sifting through the latest headlines on new nutrition trends, fad diets, and miracle foods, you’re not alone! With the plethora of nutrition information circulating online and on social media platforms, dissecting the legitimate, science-based information from everything else that’s out there takes a trained eye.

How to tell if nutritional information is true or false

Here’s what you need to know in order to analyze nutrition information, so that next time you’re listening to the news or reading the latest article online, and you see a headline claiming that chocolate may help promote weight loss, you won’t feel lost! Here is what you as a consumer need in your back pocket to help you discern truth from fallacy.

1. If it sounds too good to be true…it very well might be!

When it comes to interpreting articles and nutrition claims, common sense can go a long way. A new miracle food that promotes weight loss? A supplement that will turn fat to muscle? If it sounds impossible or completely outlandish, it likely is, and you can save your time and stop right at the headline.

2. What do the experts say?

Okay, so what if the headline actually sounds believable? To investigate its legitimacy, look to the experts for help. Find out what well-known, reputable sources say on the topic. For example, if you’re wondering whether or not coconut oil is an everyday food that is healthy for your heart, see what the American Heart Association says. If you want to know if a certain food actually prevents cancer, see what the American Institute for Cancer Research or the National Cancer Institute says. Other reputable sources include official college or university websites, government websites, and well-known medical organizations.

TIP: Look for websites that end in the following: .gov, .edu, and some .orgs.

3. Go to the primary source

Remember the game of telephone? Information can become changed each time it is passed along.1 Claims on social media platforms and third-party websites can be exaggerated or information may even be changed to draw readers in. Don’t fall for it- go straight to the source! See if you can find the original study to see out what the scientists actually concluded, or, back to point 2, see what the experts say to the topic.

4. Look at the broader context

While one study may come out with surprising results, an individual study generally is not sufficient to draw strong conclusions from. It takes many studies to establish a solid base of evidence before any new recommendations or conclusions can be made. With this in mind, make sure to look at the larger body of work out there. Can you find other studies that investigated a similar topic? If so, compare their conclusions before YOU draw conclusions.

5. Still not sure? Set up an appointment with a registered dietitian to get your questions answered

Registered dietitians have the training and expertise to dissect, evaluate, and interpret health and nutrition-related information, and can help you learn to distinguish between what is legitimate and what is not. Many registered dietitians have a graduate degree and additional training; some also have certified diabetes educator (CDE) credentials or primarily work with patients with diabetes. When in doubt, delegate it out!

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The Type2Diabetes.com team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

  1. Callahan E, Weaver C. When Nutrition Is Trending: What Is Credible Science? (462). In: FNCE. Washington, DC; 2018.

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