Five Things You Need To Know About All That Nutrition Info on the Internet
Yes, the irony of writing this post is not lost on me…I put tons of nutrition information on the internet. Actually, that is exactly WHY I want you to be super informed about how this information fits into your life. Because, as a Registered Dietitian, my goal is the safest, most personalized and effective care that I can provide. And the internet doesn’t really cut the mustard on that front.
The internet is both a blessing and a curse for the health seeker. Blessing, because it puts you in the driver seat when it comes to your health, you can access much of the information for free (leaving room in the budget for organic kale)…and helps you (hopefully) make informed decisions. Curse, because literally anyone with access to the internet can write whatever they want about nutrition and health. And bad advice can confuse (at best), misdirect you from your goals or hurt you (at worst).
So, how to ensure that all the nutrition advice you are receiving is nourishing your mind and your body?
Read on to hone your BS detector.
1. Ask yourself, “What are the credentials of the person giving me this information?”
First things first, let’s hope the writer actually has credentials! Just because someone has lost weight doesn’t mean they are a weight loss expert. They just figured out what worked for them…it might not work for you (see point three). Be wary of those who call themselves nutrition researchers, without a PhD behind their name. Reading nutrition studies doesn’t make you a researcher.
And, if the writer is credentialed, are they the right credentials? Check into fancy letters you don’t understand…oftentimes, that credential will be bogus and tied to some online program. Likewise, keep your experts in their place. I will not give you tips on the best way to carve your glutes…because I am not a personal trainer. So perhaps, don’t get your nutrition advice from a personal trainer (unless they are also a dietitian…because some are!). Be wary of nutrition advice from chiropractors, psychologists and journalists. Dietitians went to school for a minimum of five years to study nutrition. No one else can touch that level of specialization. Unless they have a PhD in nutrition behind their name.
2. Ask yourself, “What does this person stand to gain from this advice?”
Most people giving out nutrition advice on the internet are trying to sell you something. Some sell foods or supplements, others sell books and coaching. If the advice about omega 3 fatty acids leads you an omega 3 supplement you can purchase, the advice might be a bit biased. It might be awesome, too. Maybe that person is such an omega 3 expert that they made the best supplement in the world. But it would be a good idea to fact check against an unbiased site that sells nothing before you make your decision.
What do I hope to gain from putting my content on the internet? Your trust in my advice. I want my advice to be great – because if you trust my advice and it works for you, you might want more of it. You might want to book a personalized consultation with me, ask me to come speak to your group, or buy one of my books to get even more stellar advice from me.
I also consult with natural health companies, so there is something I want you to know about my relationship with these companies: I will only work with a product that matches my own values. I will not change my advice for a pay check.
I am committed to non-GMO, preferably organic foods. I don’t eat meat…so I won’t work with meat producers. My own diet is plant-centred…so I prefer vegan products. Although I still eat some dairy and eggs, I am less likely to work with these as I don’t want to promote over consumption.
3. Know that it is impossible to meet your unique needs on the internet.
By its nature, advice on the internet is meant for a larger audience. So you might not fit the intended audience. Advice on why whole grains are so good for you? Not great if you are gluten free or have significant inflammatory gut issues. A long distance runner? You might not need to worry about taking down your carb intake.
The only way to get personalized nutrition care that takes your needs into account is with a one-on-one nutrition consultation. Everything else is just “information” that you need to sort through before incorporating into your lifestyle.
4. Know that even qualified health professionals disagree AND knowledge is constantly changing (this is the toughie)
So, some dietitians think that Becel margarine is part of a healthy diet. I don’t. Likewise, my focus on a plant-centred, anti-inflammatory diet might not speak to you. Know that within my nutrition consultations, I work WITH you to make your chosen diet healthier. So if you love beef, I help you find a way to keep that beef in your healthy diet. But here on the internet? This is my soapbox…and I am going to tell you to cut that beef out.
Likewise, when it comes to how much research we are exposed to…and how we interpret it, qualified health professionals will take a slightly different stand on many important issues. This is super confusing, sorry about that. But this is where the internet gives you power. You can find a qualified professional who speaks to you…and ignore those that don’t. A word of warning: when most of the health professionals are saying one thing…and this ‘nutrition researcher’ says something you like better…beware of the “yes” (wo)man.
And yes, nutrition information is constantly changing…just not as rapidly as the media would have you believe. Before I became a dietitian, the prevailing wisdom was low fat because the research was pointing to the benefits of a lower fat diet. Now, we realize that low fat isn’t as important as healthy fat. But, as a health professional, I watch the waves of nutrition research pass over the shore of good advice…and when the shoreline changes, I change. In the media, they are reporting on each individual wave – which is why you think the ocean is more changeable than it is.
5. Don’t let twitter followers, published books or TV appearances lead you to trust someone more.
You know what 100k Instagram followers assures you? That the person in question is really good at Instagram. A best-selling book means it’s probably a really good, convincing read – and that the publishing house is really good at publicity. People in the spotlight continue to shine brighter but these trappings of health-lebrity don’t guarantee good advice. This stems largely from the lack of checks and balances involved in producing content.
Lack of quality control extends to most media. Social media measures only how good you are at social media – and that is assuming the personality didn’t buy their followers. Most large websites (except for medical sites like webMD) and television outlets don’t fact check. Actually, confession: no one at publishing houses fact checks either. My book, Un-Junk Your Diet? My publisher would have had no idea if what I said was dead wrong; there was no nutrition PhD on their payroll that OK’d my book. In fact, I took it upon myself to get other professionals to review and fact check my work – but it is possible mistakes exist.
The internet age can make it seem like everyone is an expert…they’re not. Find trustworthy guides and use your own common sense. You know your body best, so trust your gut.