Our nutritionist shares tips on how to avoid any confusion when surfing the web.
If a video or article about new health benefits and guidelines sound too good to be true, it probably is—and nutritionists, including Cooking Light's nutrition director, Brierley Horton, MS, RD, are finding that certain mediums are more likely to be misleading than others.
More than 1,300 nutritionists recently weighed in on where they most often find misinformation in a new survey conducted by Today's Dietitian and Pollock Communications. A representative from Pollock Communications tells Cooking Light that the survey's full results aren't available publically due to its "proprietary" content, but more information about the survey can be found here.
A vast majority named, unsurprisingly, Facebook as their top concern. More than 83 percent of nutritionists believe consumers are stumbling upon content that leads them to the wrong conclusions when it comes to their health.
Personal blogs were the next biggest source of concern, with 73 percent of those surveyed finding blogs to be sources of inaccurate health and wellness info. Instagram ranks third, with worries coming from 55 percent of nutritionists, closely followed by television and radio stations at 54 percent, and then magazines at 45 percent.
In terms of who is most responsible for spreading bad information, 87 percent of nutritionists blame celebrities, and another 84 percent say friends and family sharing dubious info are to blame.
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So, in an era where a fake social media post can become viral overnight, how can you avoid falling victim to inaccurate nutritional advice?
It all starts by taking a peek at the source's byline or credit, says Brierley Horton, MS, RD. "Who is posting or writing the content? What kind of credentials do they say they have? Ideally you want someone who is a registered dietitian (RD) or registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN)."
She explains that these professionals have passed a national board exam in addition to earning degrees, and in some cases, have a master's degree or a certification in a specialized area of nutrition (like dietetics or weight management).
But it's also imperative to check the source—and if it's a person relaying information, to ask more about the primary source of information. Hyperlinked sources, especially if they are published academic research, are a good sign, but asking another source about these claims could be necessary.
"Also make sure that their information in this source matches the claims within the content you've come across—misinterpretation and sensationalism is all too common, unfortunately," says Horton. "Ask yourself: Is this in the proper context?"
While it's important to stay on top of the latest nutritional guidelines and research, Horton also says that it's not your job to try and incorporate everything you see, hear, or read into your own life. Sometimes, sticking to the basics is the best course of action available.
"If you feel like a ping-pong, volleying back and forth between conflicting diet, nutrition, or health advice, pull back and look at the big picture and apply some common sense," Horton says. "And if the advice sounds too good to be true, chances are—unfortunately—that it is, especially if it seems like the level of effort required is nearly nil."
An example that Horton loves to use hinges on a viral 2018 post based on research that suggested eating chocolate could have a calming effect.
"You aren't trading chocolate for a piece of fruit at mealtimes, are you? Or, inversely, are you only eating so-called "superfoods" and ignoring all of the other fruits and vegetables in the produce section? A little common sense goes a long way."