Coverage of nutrition topics is a big deal to the media (and social media). And it’s no wonder: many people are interested in developing healthy eating habits, cooking delicious food, and feeding their families well. Helping people do all of these things is why Guiding Stars exists, and this blog supports that mission.
Nutrition news is so popular and widespread these days. And it’s difficult to determine which sources to listen to—and which to avoid. But it’s very important —our health and well-being, and that of our loved ones, is at stake. To help you find reputable nutrition information, here are our top tips. (You can also watch our webinar, “Sound Bite Science Reporting,” to learn more.)
On the internet
Consulting “Dr. Google” is often the first thing people do when they need health information—including nutrition questions. But how do you navigate the net to find quality information? How do you find credible sites? To start, look for sites operated by not-for-profit medical or health organizations, the US government, and university medical centers. And check out this interactive tutorial from the National Library of Medicine that shows how to evaluate internet-based health information. We especially recommend these sites:
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
- American Council on Science and Health
- American Institute for Cancer Research
- Governmental nutrition-related departments and agencies
- Harvard Health
- Mass General/Brigham and Women’s
- Mayo Clinic
On social media
Social media provides equal opportunities for people to gather followers and spread information (or misinformation)—anyone can make a profile. And social media coverage of nutrition is growing every day. But with little to no monitoring or reviewing of health information, it’s also rife with inaccurate and sometimes dangerous advice. So how can you decide who to follow for good-quality information? Look for these characteristics of people to follow for accurate and trustworthy nutrition advice:
- They have a nutrition degree and credentials that indicate advanced training from a legitimate educational institution. (Examples include RD, RDN, MS, and PhD.) Remember, not all health professionals (including physicians or people who use the prefix “Dr.” before their names) have nutrition training. In fact, most of them don’t. Now, that doesn’t mean they are necessarily presenting false information. But it does mean you should be more careful when consuming their material.
- They reference a study or scientific finding, and often include the name of the researcher and/or medical journal. This lets you know that what they are saying isn’t just personal opinion.
- If they are giving an opinion or general advice, they usually provide context and specify who it would best benefit.
- If they post about a specific food or supplement, or mention a branded product, there are rules to follow. For example, brands often give away products and/or compensate people to promote them. Reliable social media contributors disclose that information—often with a hashtag of #ad, #sponsored, or #client. Disclosure also cannot be present only on the profile or “about me” page on their website. Each specific post must include it, and not just after the post caption. Take a look at the FTC’s specific guidance for social media influencers to follow.
In print media
The majority of consumers aren’t getting their nutrition information from printed newspapers and magazines anymore. But we still do come across print articles that interest us from time to time. We also tend to think that printed information is more trustworthy, but that’s not necessarily the case. So when you’re reading a nutrition article, be sure to check for these things:
- Is the author listed? There are bylines on nearly all science, nutrition, and health articles, so you can see that author’s title or credentials.
- Does this information apply to you? Studies are done with specific populations, and articles will make that clear. Is it the general population? Or a specific group—e.g., children under age 12, or people with hypertension or a food allergy. If you’re not in that group, the results they found may not apply to you.
- Does the post identify sources and list references? Not all information sources list references at the end. However, if they don’t, they typically quote an expert and identify that person. If legitimate experts aren’t quoted and references aren’t provided, be suspicious of that information. It may just be the author’s opinion or personal story (and if so, it should say that).
A final check for information accuracy
Beware of fraudulent claims or phony information. To do so, look for answers to the following questions on all nutrition and health blogs, social posts, and articles:
- On websites and social media posts, are references provided or linked? Do the references connect to relevant sources?
- Is this article or post trying to sell me something? Genuine nutrition or health news articles do not try to sell you something at the end.
- Is this article or post presenting a supplement, food or beverage, or specific diet as a miracle or cure? Does this product or diet purport to fix a whole list of problems? If so, be suspicious.
There is lots of good nutrition information widely available these days, which is a good thing! Finding the best sources of this information for you and your needs is important. Nutrition is personal, and not all information or recommendations will apply to you. Take the time to evaluate who you’re listening to and what you’re reading—it will pay off.