What’s True and What’s Not: Finding Valid Nutritional Advice

— Written By and last updated by Nancy Power
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by Alyssa Anderson

Nutrition is an ongoing and ever-changing topic as research continues to emerge. It can often be overwhelming for the people to sort through this information and understand what is truly healthy. We go to blogs, books, TV shows, documentaries and websites for advice on healthy eating. Unfortunately, some of these sources are not reliable or based on sound research. So how can you determine if the information you are reading is a scam?

The most important step is to first determine the source of the information. Reliable sources include universities, medical facilities, the federal government, and to a lesser extent, non-profit, researched-based organizations. If looking for these sources on the internet, look for addresses that end in “.org”, “.edu”, and “.gov.” These indicate that the web page you are looking at most likely has scientifically sound research-based information to back its advice. Websites ending in “.com” can sometimes be false and misleading. Dependable sources often state where information is coming from, who funds the studies or organization, and what credentials and education qualify the writers on the topic.

If this is still overwhelming to sort through and understand, I have good news! Staying up-to-date on reliable nutrition related research is a major part of a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist’s (RDN) or Registered Dietitian’s (RD) job. There is no difference between a RDN and a RD; both go through the same accreditation process. RD’s and RDN’s are the true experts in this area and provide research-based knowledge to help individuals improve the quality of their diet. Services can range from individual counseling to group programs. If books and blogs are your preferred source of information, choose ones written by an RD.

You may wonder what makes these professionals more qualified on the topic compared to others who claim to have nutrition-related expertise. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics oversees the process of becoming a dietitian. To become an RD, one must complete a minimum of a four-year degree from an approved program that includes courses in biochemistry, human anatomy, human physiology, and advanced nutrition classes. After completing this, he/she must complete at least 1200 hours of supervised practice in the field. Finally, the prospective RD must pass a nationally-accredited exam to earn the RD or RDN title. Once practicing, dietitians honor The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ code of ethics. People who claim to be nutrition experts but do not have this title can vary greatly in their nutrition knowledge. Some may have good intentions, but may lack  experience and in-depth, research-based knowledge. Others may be looking at it as a quick way to make money and not take the overall health of people into consideration.

Remember to look for some of the major red flags that information may not be trustworthy. Personal testimonials or celebrity endorsement without scientific data to back it are definite signs. True science involves a comparison between a group of subjects (humans or test animals) eating a certain diet and a “control” group eating a standard diet. Another red flag is a “diet” eliminating one or more food groups for the purpose of weight loss; this can lead to quick, temporary weight loss but in the long run can result in nutrient deficiencies and unsuccessful weight management. Another major warning sign is products such as supplements or pills. If a diet or nutrition product sounds too good to be true, it most likely is. Using reliable sources and dietitians can help to decrease the stress from the overwhelming amount of nutrition information available and lead to long term success.

The Richmond County Cooperative Extension’s goal is to provide the residents of the community with research-based knowledge. For more information on food safety, wellness, and nutrition please contact the office at 910-997-8255 or check out our website at N.C. Cooperative Extension Richmond County Center.