Who Can You Trust?
May 5, 2016
Cutting through the clutter concerning
food and nutrition information
By Lisa Harkins, RD, LDN, Owner of Ideal Nutrition & Fitness, LLC
When I was first in school back in the 1990s, there was no internet, no World Wide Web. If I needed information for a project or report, I had to trudge to the campus library, and hunker down for several hours searching through card catalogs, flipping through giant reference texts, and scanning documents on the microfiche machines. It was a tedious process, and today’s students can’t even imagine how arduous a task it was to acquire the information they needed to properly cite a paper. Today, a few keystrokes and a click of the mouse supply an endless amount of information concerning nutrition at our fingertips. But with all this power and convenience comes an extraordinary burden: how does one efficiently sort through the clutter and select the unbiased, trust-worthy, clinically-sound resources to educate ourselves, our clients, our patients, and the public?
When I’m trying to find accurate info on any health and wellness topic, I first go to the gold-standard: studies. Aside from choosing reputable online journals and sites, such as The Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA), The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (AJCN), National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI, which includes PubMed and MedLinePlus), Journal of Diabetes, and so on, I also closely examine this research to determine if it is news I can use, and more importantly, trust. So as you are combing through a study, determine the answers to these questions:
Who funded the study?
Follow the money: for example, is the study concerning the benefits of cocoa antioxidants on cardiovascular health funded by Mars?
Who are the authors, and what are their credentials?
Are the individuals affiliated with a University, Corporation, Research Institution, or Special Interest Group (The Sugar Association, The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine)?
Who originally published the study?
Government agency (USDA), university press (Harvard University Press), self-published?
Is there a list of references and is the work well cited?
Do they appear reputable and valid?
When was the study published?
Is it current or years old?
You should exact the same due diligence when reviewing information from bloggers, non-profit organizations, and commercial sites:
Go to the “About Us” page first. Who runs the site? What are their credentials?
What is the main purpose of the site? Is it simply information sharing or are they selling or promoting a product? (Be wary of embedded links, and lots of adverts).
Is the information represented supported by references or works cited? Does the author provide links to reputable sources for you to pursue additional information concerning the topics presented?
Is the author or content upfront and clear about any biases or affiliations? For example, does the blog post concerning the benefits of chocolate milk as a post-recovery sports drink indicate the author is a representative for the National Dairy Council?
Understand just because an author or site has affiliations or even biases concerning a topic that the information presented is erroneous. If disclosed in a forthright manner, the content may be an excellent and accurate resource to you and your patients, clients and the public. It is your responsibility, as the nutrition expert, to review the material with an objective and critical eye, and to discern the facts from the fiction as best as you can based on your education and experience. The more you read and keep abreast of research and new discoveries concerning nutrition, as well as being consistently cognizant of the trends and fads of the time, the better prepared you’ll be as a trusted health professional.
Lisa worked as a consultant for Dietitians on Demand
at a long term care facility in Georgetown, Delaware.