Foodie Thursday // Trusting Online Nutrition Advice

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Sometimes, it seems like everyone’s an expert. When you go online looking for diet advice, a simple question can yield a staggering number of results. So how do you know which advice to trust and which to discard? Here are some questions to ask yourself to help you decide. Who’s giving the advice?

Is the writer a registered dietitian, doctor, or other related healthcare professional? Healthy living blogs can be a great source of helpful tips and ideas, but check to see if the author provides a disclaimer on their site stating whether they are or are not credentialed in specific areas. Either way, it’s a good sign if someone is willing to be upfront about what they do and don’t know rather than positioning themselves as an expert in all things. Tone matters. Sharing ideas is one thing, but prescriptive pointers (especially from someone without training or education on the topic) may be a red flag.

Where did they get their information?

If an article or blog posts talks about research, do they cite specific studies or link to supporting information? Do they interview experts on the topic? Do they explain the logic or science behind the advice in the piece? Depending on the nature of the topic, evidence-based advice is generally considered more trustworthy than solely anecdotal, but a combination of both offers the best of both worlds. Of course, there may be some things for which anecdotal evidence is appropriate. For example, a review of a product in which a person shares their actual experience as opposed to just talking about the supposed benefits of a product based on its ingredients may give you better idea of whether that product would be a good choice for you.

How old is the advice?

The healthcare field is continuously evolving, thanks to new research. If you’re reading an article from 20 years ago, there’s a chance that some of the information may be outdated. Though isn’t always the case, articles that cite more recent research may be a better source of information. Within the past 5 years is a good rule of thumb, though there are certainly exceptions. Though some stuff like “vegetables are good for you” may be practically common sense for the foreseeable future, there’s a lot we’re continuing to learn about specific diseases and the mechanisms behind them, so take that into consideration.

Who benefits from your reading this advice?

Is the website you’re getting the information from selling a product or service? If so, that doesn’t mean you have to write off the post completely, but keep an eye out for heavy name-dropping. If the writer continuously stresses how much such-and-such brand of whatever-the-heck will change your life, you may want to think twice. If a writer is endorsing a particular product, look for a disclaimer somewhere in the post stating that the company sponsored it or that the writer received samples or compensation for the post.

All things considered, your best bet is to trust your gut. If something just doesn’t sit right with you, there’s probably a reason for that!

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Jessica Cording, MS, RD, CDN, is a registered dietitian and writer. She blogs at Keeping It Real Food