3 Things That Should Make You Question Nutrition Information

Recently I attended an event where there was a speaker doing a presentation on nutrition. Right off the bat I noticed her credentials on the screen: a non-science, non-nutrition bachelor degree and a personal training specialization that doesn’t delve too much into nutrition as far as I know. I raised my eyebrow at this, but settled back in my chair and decided to give her the benefit of the doubt.

If you had been watching me while I watched her presentation, it probably would have been amusing. I’m pretty sure I was squirming in my seat and sitting on my hands so that I didn’t give into my strong urge to speak up and challenge her information. But I like to consider myself at least somewhat socially graceful, so I bit my tongue and did nothing.

But those of you who know me know that I can’t really do nothing about this sort of thing. So almost immediately after getting home from the event, I wrote this post on 3 things that should make you question nutrition information. I know the audience that night will likely never see this post, but it makes me feel slightly more at ease to at least know I’m putting this out there.

(Note: The Dietitians of Canada recently released this fantastic news release on 5 tips to spot misinformation. I originally had all of these points written out in my post, but when I realized the overlap, I decided to just link to their post instead and focus on my other points!)

1. They use fear tactics

Extreme claims about nutrition and health are definite attention grabbers. But truths can get stretched or entirely fabricated altogether, especially when real scientific evidence isn’t considered (see #3). If you don’t see a reputable reference for the extreme claim, take it with a grain of salt – actually, take it with a grain of salt anyways – and question why they are using these fear tactics. Are they just trying to be dramatic or is that fear tactic followed by a solution (a book, diet plan, etc) that you can convieniently purchase from the person? If it’s the latter, run away!

2. They have no formal training in science or nutrition

The human body is complicated. I studied it for 7 years in school and internship and still don’t fully understand it. So how can someone who has no formal education in science or nutrition understand it? Sorry but they can’t. It’s this incomplete understanding of the human body that leads to all the absurd notions and fad diets that sound like they could be true, but aren’t because they fail to consider the complete picture (i.e. the alkaline diet).

3. They reference books rather than reputable studies

Books are not evidence. The internet is not evidence. That charismatic doctor on TV is not evidence. The only real, solid evidence comes from scientific studies that are peer-reviewed and published in scientific journals (being able to understand those studies is key too because different types of studies provide different quality of evidence!).

So don’t let yourself be duped! Next time you’re exposed to nutrition information, keep these 3 things in mind (plus the 5 great tips from the Dietitians of Canada) to decide whether to believe what you’re being told.

3 Things That Should Make You Question Nutrition Information

26 Comments

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26 Responses to 3 Things That Should Make You Question Nutrition Information

  1. Love love this post, Chelsea! It seems like everyone is suddenly an expert about nutrition and there really is nothing more frustrating that misinformation! I hate the idea of using fear tactics- I’ve never witnessed that myself but I’m not so sure I could be as socially graceful as you were in that situation.

  2. UGH! This kind of stuff drives me crazy… I hate when people try to tell me about nutrition and then when they find out I’m a RD they usually shut their mouths. So hard to bite your tongue during a time like that… great post!

  3. This drives me nuts because we don’t let people who are not doctors or lawyers pretend to be and operate on people or represent them in court. Why should our health be treated differently!

    • Chelsea

      My point exactly! It’s one thing to share tips, but I’ve seen dangerous advice being given out by non-nutrition professionals, which is what really concerns me.

  4. THANK YOU for bringing this up! I think it’s super important to remind people that they need to look at all the information they take in with a critical eye, because there’s SO much misinformation out there. Nutrition is especially frustrating because of how much conflicting information is out there, and how things seem to change every decade or so.

    • Chelsea

      Haha so true! Fat’s bad, fat’s good; take fish oil supplements, don’t take fish oil supplements; soy contributes to cancer, soy’s safe… it’s hard to stay on top of it all!

  5. omg this. Chels, you nail it on the head with your posts.

  6. BOOM. My response to anyone who tries to give me unsolicited dietary advice is always a suppppper sassy, “SORRY! I didn’t realize you were a registered dietician.” Also? YEAH SCIENCE!

  7. You are sooo wiseeeee Chelsea!! I love this post and think it’s awesome that you managed to hold everything in and wait till you got home to write it. I definitely would have been one to contradict and question the speaker (although my knowledge of nutrition is fairly minimal). Anyway I noticed you live in Waterloo Ontario! If you ever come to Toronto you should definitely let me know :)

    • Chelsea

      Hey Beverley, thanks for dropping by my blog! Nice to hear from another Ontario blogger. :) I looooove Toronto but I don’t get there often enough!

  8. Fantastic point that you actually need to be able to understand the scientific studies to interpret the results correctly!

    • Chelsea

      Yes! Far too often I notice that people just read the abstract and fail to take into account important details (like the study was done in rats, only had 7 subjects, etc lol).

  9. Cel

    As a nutrition student it would be wonderful to also look outside what you have learned and also seek out different sources of information. Often ‘scientific studies’ are backed by large corporations with only their (monetary) interests at heart. Documentaries like Cowspiracy are lifting the veil on dairy and meat agendas. One does not need formal training to be their own student in life and read other sources other than government funded health ‘studies.’ Don Bennett @ http://www.health101.org is a wealth of information. Don says “Live like a student, not a teacher”–continue to educate yourself…dont believe just because you have completed how many years of school that you are done and that what you have learned is the be all end all.
    As for fear tactics….society/media/government…they all do it. It keeps society compliant :) Not trying to paint a meek picture just a different one from that which society is taught and seemingly been conditioned by. I graduated with honours in MIT at western…so much like your ‘nutrition authority’ (and i don’t mean that condescendingly!) I have an ‘alternative media critic’ POV thanks to my studies :) Would love to hear your thoughts!

    @celinaeliz on IG (I still want to be Canadian/Western friends!)

    • Chelsea

      Hey Celina, you raise a good point! It’s true that studies can be biased, especially when they’re funded by organizations with a vested interest in the results. I think that’s definitely a huge factor to consider when evaluating the credibility of studies! Also agree that what we learned in school is not the be all and end all – I have definitely departed from some of my learnings in school thanks to doing my own learning and research. I appreciate your perspective & nice to hear from a follow Western grad!!

  10. These are great tips, Chelsea! I can only imagine how frustrating it is to see things like that when you’ve worked so hard to obtain the knowledge you have. Good for you for speaking out about it!

  11. When I read one of Michael Pollan’s books (i think it was The Omnivore’s Dilemma) I learned so much about how scientists and nutrition scientists are just bridging the surface at understanding the human body. It’s complicated stuff, and they certainly don’t have all of the answers!

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  13. I’m so glad I came across this info and I’m so glad I came across your web page. You’ve been a real help and inspiration. Don’t stop please!

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