Ellern Mede’s latest Dietetics blog. How to find reliable nutrition information and avoid bad advice.

Finding reliable nutritional advice can be quite a challenge in the current age of information overload. According to a 2011 survey conducted by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, television, magazines and the internet were named as the top information sources for people seeking nutrition information. Medical professionals such as doctors and dieticians were less likely to be consulted.

Yet the internet is filled with both factual and false information. So how can we distinguish and identify reliable information from the misleading, anecdotal and fabricated material?

It is important that people know how to distinguish helpful from unhelpful advice, to prevent confusion from mixed messages and potentially dangerous consequences from making dietary changes based on information that is not reliable or factual.

Even after evaluating dietary advice, Ellern Mede would advise you always follow up with your GP or a dietician before making any changes to your diet. Professionals can help you understand the specific risks and benefits of these changes based on your medical and/or psychological history.

Who to get advice from?

When we are given dietary advice from other people it is important to evaluate whether they are qualified to do so. Is the information simply their opinion? Is it subject to bias?

It can be difficult to identify qualified professionals. Many of the titles used in the health and fitness industry do not require a qualification or may only require attendance to a short workshop/online course. So be wary of self-proclaimed ‘nutritionists’, ‘nutrition consultants’ or ‘health and fitness experts’. Instead you should choose a Registered Dietician.

Registered Dieticians are the most highly trained professionals in nutrition. They are qualified to assess, diagnose and treat diet and nutrition problems. Here are some questions to ask:

  1. Does someone need a qualification to use their title?
  2. Is the profession regulated by a national board and does the individual need to be registered with that board?
  3. Is the individual required to take part in continued professional development to keep their knowledge up to date?

An example of a registration body is the British Dietetic Association (BDA) visit https://www.bda.uk.com/ and download free Food Fact Sheets.

How to Search for Advice?

The way we search for information can impact what we find. There are billions of websites in cyberspace, so entering a nutrition-related term into a search engine is likely to result in thousands of ‘hits’. There are some ways of narrowing down a search to increase the certainty of accessing good information. For example non-commercial URL’s ending in .org, .edu or .gov are likely to have more reliable information than websites using a .com suffix. Furthermore, pay attention to who runs the website and its purpose. If the website is an e-commerce website which is selling something this will affect how they present information.

Critically Evaluating Information

Even when being wary of nutritional sources, it is easy for individuals to put information online and claim it to be factual. Some websites and magazine articles can appear to contain information from reputable sources but this may not be the case.

Consider the following questions to help evaluate the credibility of information:

  1. Is this written by a qualified and registered health professional (e.g. a GP or registered dietician)?
  2. Does the author represent a recognised and reputable health organisation (e.g. a government body or university)?
  3. What is the author’s commercial interests?
  4. Does the article include any solid evidence from research studies conducted by trustworthy organisations?
  5. Is information provided to allow you to check this research for yourself?
  6. Was the research based on a large number of people and were these people similar to yourself (age, height, weight, gender, diagnosis etc.)
  7. Is the information consistent with current health information you have read from other reliable sources?
  8. Is a date provided to allow you to check whether the information is current?

Note: The image used with this blog is part of a BDA Food Fact Sheet.