Nutrition Confusion? How to decode fact from fiction on the internet

Editorial note: To mark Nutrition Month 2022, Kingstonist will be featuring a column from a Kingston-based Registered Dietitian (RD) each week throughout the month of March. For more information on nutrition and the role of the dietitian, visit the Dietitians of Canada website.
The following is an article written by Kristen White, RD. The views and opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of Kingstonist.

Let’s face it: We have all at one point turned to Google to search something food and nutrition related. However, the convenience of the internet comes at a cost; anybody can make a website, write an article, or post a TikTok giving nutrition information and advice. In our current fast-paced world where we have so much information at our fingertips, it is easy to see how myths and misinformation about nutrition can get mistaken for fact and truth.

When it comes to food choice, diet, and nutrition, the internet can be a vast library of useful knowledge, and it can be a roadmap of misinformation. Registered Dietitian Kristen White shares questions to ask yourself when taking in nutritional information online to help avoid relying on information that could be either useless or detrimental. Photo by Ready Made.

Sorting fact from fiction is not as black and white as we’d like it to be. That being said, there are few questions you can ask to see if what you are watching or reading is reliable.

Who is the information coming from?

What are the qualifications of the person providing this information? Look for the title ‘Registered Dietitian’ or ‘RD.’ The title of Dietitian is protected in Ontario, meaning you need to complete a four-year university degree, a year-long internship, write a national board exam, and do continuing education to attain and keep your title. If the person claims to be a nutritionist, specialist, macro-coach, etc., know that these titles are open for anyone to use and are not standardized or regulated by any governing body.

Does the person who provided this information know me and my own personal circumstances?

Every person’s nutritional needs are unique and based on a variety of factors, therefore ‘healthy eating’ looks different for everybody. If you see information telling you a certain diet or way of eating is better for you, ask yourself if they know information such as your age, activity level, health conditions, budget, culture, etc.

Is the person trying to sell me something?

The diet industry is worth billions of dollars. Whether it’s a product, supplement, app, or book, if the person providing you information is trying to sell you something, the claims they make are most likely influenced by personal gain, rather than your health.

Do they say a single food or nutrient will cause/cure many diseases or health conditions?

Whether it’s sugar, gluten, fat, lectins, or carbs, no one food or substance is responsible for making us sick. The opposite also occurs regularly, where a person will say a certain food or supplement will cure all chronic diseases or health conditions. Our health is influenced by an extremely complex web of many factors and there is no single food/diet/supplement that is a cure-all for chronic disease or various health conditions.

Does it include ‘buzz’ words?

Buzz words are included to grab our attention, and are also a sign that the information is misleading and/or incorrect. Does it contain words such as ‘toxin,’ ‘cleanse,’ ‘detox,’ ‘burn,’ ‘superfoods,’ or ‘quick fix’? If it sounds too good to be true, then it most likely is.

Is the information based on research and fact, or testimonies of personal experiences?

Is the information based on personal stories? Although it’s nice to hear about success, it’s not proof that something works or is true. Everyone is different, and just because something works for one person does not mean it will work for everyone. Any nutrition advice given should be thoughtfully considered and be backed up by the best scientific research available.

Hopefully these six tips can help you navigate the messy online world of nutrition advice and information. In the likely event that you still have questions or are unsure about something, try asking a Dietitian, or consult these trusted websites for more information or clarity:

Kristen White, RD. Submitted photo.

Kristen White is a Kingston-based Registered Dietitian who works with adults and children. She is passionate about advocating for her patients and uses evidenced-based practice to provide food and nutrition information and care.  

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