Navigating conflicting diet information on the internet

Photo courtesy Sharp Health News/Sharp HealthCare

In a single day, you can likely find at least 10 different articles on the same health topic, all claiming to know the “best” diets or the “healthiest” foods. Without being a nutrition expert, it can be difficult to navigate the volume of nutrition information at our fingertips. Even experts have to weed through to separate valid and reliable information from anecdotal opinions.

Here are three ways to learn which sources to trust and which you can scroll past.

  1. Know what you’re looking for, and why.

If you are looking to change your eating, be sure to base this decision on health and well-being, rather than appearance. Ask yourself these important questions before you start your internet search:

  • Why is changing my eating important to me?
  • Is the change I’m considering realistic?
  • Will I be able to maintain the change in the long run?
  • Is there any health risk involved in following the advice or plan that I’m considering?
  • Does the plan or advice require me to give up my favorite foods or avoid whole food groups?

Having this discussion with yourself can help you know what information to seek out when making informed health decisions.

  1. Find trusted sources.

Look for articles written by a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN). RDNs are food and nutrition experts who have met specific academic and professional requirements. These include earning a bachelor’s degree or higher from an accredited university, completing an accredited and supervised practice program, passing a national exam for credentialing, and completing ongoing professional education requirements.

The term “nutritionist” is not regulated and may be used by those without proper qualifications or training.

Examples of trusted health resources include the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the American Heart Association, and the American Diabetes Association.

  1. Read with a questioning attitude.

It’s important to use a critical eye and common sense when searching for nutrition information. Look out for articles that offer a quick fix, promise a “cure” to multiple conditions, make you feel guilty about your appearance, contradict information from reputable scientific resources, or try to get you to purchase a product to solve your “problems.”

Other red flags include nutrition claims based on one study or studies from nonscientific sources, small study sample sizes, and studies performed on animals. Words often used to lure consumers into questionable diets include “natural,” “miracle,” “special” or “secret.”

Rather than getting caught up in all the details of “healthy” eating, focus on finding meals that will bring you energy, eating a balance of food groups throughout the day, listening to your body’s physical hunger and fullness cues, thinking about how different meals make you feel, and staying hydrated.

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